In a better world, no one would be transgender.
Let me back up a little here. What makes a person transgender? I recently wrote a simple definition:
Does your gender identity and/or expression fall outside the bounds prescribed by your society? You are transgender.
This is a commonsense and widely accepted definition. For example, the National Center for Transgender Equality writes (pdf):
Transgender: A term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth.
So transgender does not describe the state of having a particular combination of physical and psychological traits (e.g., being a woman with XY chromosomes). Nor does it describe a particular gender identity (e.g., a person who is neither a man nor a woman). Transgender describes a sociopolitical location. Transgender people are those whose genders are taboo.
In a better world, all people would be free to inhabit their bodies with dignity. No one would be ridiculed, assaulted or killed for being too feminine, too masculine or too androgynous. No one would be the target of interpersonal and institutional violence because they have an atypical body or gender expression. Therefore: no one would be transgender.
Now, so long as there are men and women, there would still be men born with ovaries and women born with testes. There would still be androgynous, agender and other nonbinary people. There would still be statistically rare combinations of physical sex, subconscious sex, gender expression and sexual orientation, including those people we now call transgender, intersex, genderqueer, gay/lesbian/bisexual and asexual.
But transgender is a state of systemic marginalization. To be different and not marginalized is an experience almost unimaginable today. If we were not targeted for our difference, it might mean very little, and certainly something very different. Maybe being transgender would be a bit like being left-handed, having an allergy or having perfect pitch.
Are people who inhabit 3rd, 4th and other genders, in societies that honor them, “transgender”? Would we be “transgender” if the wrong gender had never been imposed on us? If we were never exiled, there would be no journey to make, no border to cross, nothing to transgress, transition or transform. Some people would still utilize hormones and surgery. But without cissexism, that might be a bit like, well, utilizing hormones and surgery is for cisgender people (hormonal birth control, surgery for gynecomastia, etc).
In other words, we would probably still have genders. But we wouldn’t be trans anymore.
Over at Alas, A Blog, Ampersand raises the topic of being better-liked after weight loss:
When I think about losing weight – and like nearly all fat people, my mind sometimes strays there even though I’m against trying to lose weight myself – this thought always bothers me. I’ve read enough studies – and seen enough life – to be convinced that I would probably be better liked, and treated better – not by my close friends, but by acquaintances and strangers and business associates – if I lost a lot of weight.
But I think that would in turn make me paranoid. How could I make new friends, for instance, if at the back of my head I’m wondering if they’ll drop me if I regain the weight (as most weight losers do)? Would I take every instance of nice treatment as an opportunity to think “if you saw me two years ago, you wouldn’t be being this nice?”
This is a depressing reality, and as a thin person, I’ve never had to deal with it. It did get me thinking, though, about the ways transition has simultaneously improved and imploded my social life. People are just so much nicer to me now that I fit neatly into the male box. Cashiers and waiters meet my eyes; guys slap my back and call me brother; children don’t gawk at me in the street.
It was damn stressful being visibly gender-nonconforming. Every new interaction was laced with anxiety. People disrespected me in subtle ways every day. But more than that, people just kept their distance. A subtle chill seemed to follow me everywhere. People kept their eyes and bodies averted, stood a few feet away from me. Some may have been disgusted; most, I think, were just confused, overwhelmed with the awkwardness of meeting a person who might be a “he” or might be a “she.” Maybe they were even trying not to stare to be polite. It felt like shit, though.
Now, I’m some kind of golden boy of the system, and people are nice wherever I go. Women flirt with me, men get buddy-buddy fast. From bus rides to job interviews to bars, people seems easy around me. The few people who are rude or cold are probably treating everybody that way. A slew of single-syllable terms of familiarity, all of them gendered, follow me around the city, little olive branches extended everywhere I go. Bro, dude, man, bud, kid, sir.
I really enjoy the warmth and ease that have emerged in the last few years. It’s nice to have friendly chats with strangers, to be on a first-name basis with everyone in my classes.
But I take it all in with a more than a bit of suspicion. How conditional is this kindness? Will it drop if they find out I’m trans? In my limited experience of coming out, no–apparently, you’re good once you get through the door. More insidiously, then, the nagging suspicion that these nice-seeming people would’ve been completely different if we met when I still looked like a butch/he-she/dyke/freak (to use some frank terms).
Since transition, I’ve gained dozens of friendly acquaintances, but no close friends. The kindness is cruel; my general social trust has disintegrated. How can I open up to people now that I see just how two-faced they really are? It’s part outrage, part fear, part disgust, part loyalty to my past self, part internalized transphobia. I enjoy the superficial niceness for what it’s worth, but I am extremely hesitant to get close to anyone. How can I accept such gifts, now I see on what basis they’re given?
But there is a magic aspect in abnormality and so-called deformity. Maimed, mad, and sexually different people were believed to possess supernatural powers by primal cultures’ magico-religious thinking. For them, abnormality was the price a person had to pay for her or his inborn extraordinary gift.
There is something compelling about being both male and female, about having an entry into both worlds. Contrary to some psychiatric tenets, half and halfs are not suffering from a confusion of sexual identity, or even from a confusion of gender. What we are suffering from is an absolute despot duality that says we are able to be only one or the other. It claims that human nature is limited and cannot evolve into something better. But I, like other queer people, am two in one body, both male and female. I am the embodiment of the hieros gamos: the coming together of opposite qualities within.
— Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera
The enforced boundary between male and female is among the deepest cuts in the human soul. How did that ancient play of opposites twist from a dance into something much more sinister? The dividing wall has become an idol, and you and I, the sacrifice. They have forgotten that wall once was a bridge.
They have forgotten the most important truth, the secret underlying everything: all opposites are one. Opposite pairs are interconnected, not mutually exclusive; allies, not enemies. Opposites complement, transform into and create one other.
And what of us? We are questions, dreams, possibilities. We have healed the war between the genders within our own bodies. Like the poles of a magnet, male and female are opposites with one source, one body, one life, wholly interdependent.
We are the promise of a new paradigm. We are the example of healing.
We must be for ourselves, or who will be for us? Yet we cannot only be for ourselves, or what are we? We have also come for them, the others, our sisters and brothers. The delicate glow of our light will heal them, too, if they can bear to see it. We have come to bring a thousand years of peace between men and women, if only they will make a little room for the rest of us.
We are only messengers; they shot us. We are doves of peace; they gutted and ate us. We are born in every generation, bellwethers of their compassion. They crush us, and only crush themselves. They try to snuff us out and they snuff out their own souls.
But there is another way. There is another way, and we must be her champions. It is the way of open hearts and open borders. Someday they may yet see us in their mirrors, and remember we were sisters and brothers once. Someday they may listen. Our voices will wash over the desert, and if the acequias run with blood, do not be afraid. It is only all the blood already spilled these 500 years convulsed with violence. Those tiny rivers will clog with brine, the tears of the dead seeping at long last out of the soil.
The light of love will wash that away; water will flow again. We will eat piñon and cactus fruit, and let doves be.
Then we will know, and we will remember. They are us, we are them.
Paradise is ours when all of us want it.
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?
We have to get out of this idea that trans=a particular style of transition.
There is no point at which we become transgender – it isn’t because you have changed your name, or taken hormones, or had surgery, or legally changed your gender markers. You were transgender before you started your transition, you’d still be transgender if you never transitioned. If you feel that you are not authentically the “sex you were assigned at birth” then you are trans.
I love this apt reframing of what it is to be trans. Jamie Ray’s words are a powerful case for solidarity and respect among diverse transgender people. They are also an antidote to the some of that crippling shame we so often feel as we attempt to be our whole selves.
I talk about my transition in the language of choice, and I have made choices. Yet that’s really beside the point, isn’t it? Whatever gender my ID says, whatever clothes I wear, whatever medical treatments I have–I’m trans, and I always will be.
My transition has gotten to a point now where the steps I desperately wanted are behind me. But loose ends remain. I’m moving step by step towards getting a hysterectomy, at the suggestion of my doctor and pleading of my mother, because of the unknown risks of living with male hormones and female internal reproductive organs. I’m less than thrilled about the prospect.
I recently found myself thinking, If only it weren’t my choice, I could accept it. Somehow I feel I got myself here, I am to blame, and now I have to make this difficult decision. I don’t even want the stupid organs–I just don’t want to be responsible for choosing to remove them.
It isn’t my choice, though, not really. I am choosing to take care of my health. That’s a choice I can feel good about. But all the other stuff, the stuff I sometimes feel really bad about, is no choice and is not affected by choices. I didn’t choose to be a guy who was born with ovaries. I didn’t choose to not produce enough testosterone. I didn’t choose to be a member of a group whose health the system blatantly ignores.
I am trans. I was before I started transition, and I will be til the day I die. No choice I can make will ever change or “fix” that. And by the same token, no choice of mine caused it, nor could have ever caused it.
In other words, I didn’t choose the situation. Observing the situation, my course of action is a simple thing. We make our choices within limits entirely outside of our control. One more reason to respect each person’s unique journey. And a reason, too, to give ourselves our full permission to do what we have to do. We’re doing our best with what we’ve got. What we’ve got is what we’ve got, and nothing more–not a reflection on us.
Sometimes the personal is political. Sometimes the personal isn’t even personal.
Love your neighbor as yourself; love yourself as your neighbor.
UPDATE (7/10/14, 5:00pm): Several readers have let me know that I over-stepped by wading into this debate as a binary trans person. Thanks for giving me this feedback and for doing it so politely. I apologize and I can see how I distracted from a necessary in-group conversation. If I could do it over, I’d address the topic in a very different way, sticking to my own experiences and making it more clear that it’s up to nonbinary folks to decide this one. My bad. Thanks to everyone who’s shared their thoughts so far.
Topherbigelow makes the case for adding N for nonbinary to the LGBTQ+ acronym:
If the LGBT community would like to stand strong in its support of all sexual and gender “minorities,” we should add an “N” to accommodate our nonbinary members. The constant pissing contests of who’s more trans needs to stop and if there is an entirely separate letter and a new vocabulary, maybe it will.
If you don’t identify with your sex assigned at birth, you are a nonconformer. If you identify with another binary gender, you’re trans. If you don’t, you’re nonbinary. It’s really not hard. Stop fighting each other and start fighting for what we all need.
First, I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment in that last sentence. “Trans enough” policing is a damaging waste of time. Instead, we should work together to improve conditions for all of us.
I’ve never heard this proposal before, and it really got me thinking. Thanks to topherbigelow for raising this interesting question. I want to make clear that I am not trying to refute anything he said, just to explain my own current thinking on the matter.
At this time, I am not in favor of adding N for nonbinary to the acronym. I am not dead-set against it; as a transsexual man, I will defer to my nonbinary comrades if a consensus emerges in favor of the N. Nonbinary readers are encouraged to weigh-in in the comments. For now, I’d like to share a preliminary assessment of the idea. I lay out my concerns with making the acronym any longer, and then discuss some reasons I think nonbinary folks belong within the trans umbrella.
First, an argument from parsimony. The LGBTQ+ acronym has already been elaborated to the point that very few people are going to use or understand its longer incarnations. For example, topherbigelow uses the acronym LGBTQQIAAHP (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, allies, HIV infected/affected, poly/pansexual). Wow! I admire the inclusiveness of this acronym. I also worry it’s too much of a mouthful to be of much use, especially offline. I have been an activist for gender and sexual minorities for over a decade, I read LGBTQ+ blogs every day, and I had never heard this version. Off the top of my head, the longest version I know is LGBTQQIA (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual)–already too long for many situations.
I think it’s fair to say that many people, including many who are gender and/or sexual minorities themselves, are not going to understand this terminology. We have to strike a balance between explicitly including different parts of our community and using terms that will be understood by as many as possible. Language is useful only to the extent it allows us to communicate. Since nonbinary people are already included in the term transgender–though it’s true that not enough people realize this–I wonder how much is to be gained by adding yet another letter.
That doesn’t mean we should do nothing, however. I think we should continue to work for greater visibility of nonbinary people within the trans umbrella. Binary and nonbinary trans people do have our differences–but we also have so many similarities. We face stigma and ignorance that is heavily overlapping; the same laws bar (or fail to bar) discrimination as against us; we struggle with shame and misgendered childhoods.
Many of the differences–pronoun preference, medical care needs, legal document changes–exist within as well as between these groups. For example, hormone therapy is associated with trans men and women. I do think it’s probably true that trans men and women are more likely to seek out hormone therapy than nonbinary folks. However, there are some trans men and women who don’t take hormones, and some nonbinary people who do.
The variation within groups goes even deeper. How much do an 18-year-old queer, radical trans woman of color and a 50-year-old straight, white, Republican man of transsexual history really have in common? Just one thing: their sex assignment at birth differs from their real gender. That’s something they both have in common with any nonbinary person, too. Because of the tyrannical sex/gender regime, that one thing turns out to be really damn important.
In my time in our communities, I have learned so much from nonbinary people who have courageously spoken up in person, in print and online. I was often there to hear them precisely because we had connected through the label “transgender.” Though the mainstream conception of trans people is still basically transsexual men and women, I see much potential for further acknowledgement of our nonbinary kin, and I think a lot of good would come from that. I worry that adding an N would cause nonbinary people to get booted out of a community whether they have just started to make a real home.
Again, though, I am aware I say this as a trans man. It may well be that my privilege is hiding the true depth of the rifts among gender-nonconforming people.
What’s your take on all this? Nonbinary folks are especially encouraged to comment.
Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them. A border is a dividing line, a narrow strip along a steep edge. A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants. Los atravesados live here: the squint-eyed, the perverse, the queer, the troublesome, the mongrel, the mulato, the half breed, the half dead; in short, those who cross over, pass over, or go through the confines of “normal.”
— Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera
Before transition, I was a proud outlaw. People grimaced at me in the streets and were rude to me in restaurants. I guarded my heart closely, and I found solace in the knowledge I walked in a long line of rule-breakers, exception-takers, border-crossers.
In the crucible of my transformation to male, I hit a wall of resistance to this queerness. People began to smile at me and pat me on the back. I discovered the pleasures of easy social acceptance–life as a regular guy.
But a terrible fear gnaws at the edges of my good fortune. Suddenly I had a secret. The carpet of straight male privilege could be yanked away at any moment. Suddenly I had something to lose. Mixture of shame, disgust and gratitude at the new-found easy warmth of strangers. In a way, all their kindness was mine by accident. It was never intended for people like me, and it is constantly on the verge of leaving.
Within fear, the gnarled face of hidden resentment. Why me? Why this burden? There is nothing queer about me, I silently protested to a jury box of thoughts. There is nothing wrong with me, I really meant, and nothing especially peculiar in my essence.
And that is true. Trans people are a small share of the population. But there is nothing so strange about us, and certainly nothing bad or wrong. We are simply a few more shades in nature’s infinite palette.
It is the militarized perimeter between male and female that leaves us outcast. That arbitrary line drawn on the human body, a failed attempt to define us out of existence, to will us away like a bad dream.
I suppose we did cross the border, but it was the border that double-crossed us. Arbitrary, unjust, imposed and maintained through violence–that is the nature of borders.
I was born a little gender-variant human being. I wasn’t born a queer, a border-crosser or an outlaw. I was shaped that way by the sex/gender regime. I am a sloping hill carved by weather and time into a jagged cliff. My body is a crime; you can call me a criminal. Our violation is in the very word for us. Trans: across; gender: category. We are rule-breakers, exception-takers, logical impossibilities.
I am as I am. I was born a stranger in a strange land, and now I dwell in a land still stranger. I thought I could go home. But you can’t uncross the border. The crossing itself changes you. You can only cross, be crossed, and crisscross it again.
Hebrew, ivri, one from beyond
I find Sefarad in the heart of Aztlán
No state on the face of the earth is my home
My home is the One who goes where we go
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.
Someone is going to try to talk you out of transition. They will probably be someone very close to you, who claims to love you. More than likely, they will not be the only one.
They may be your partner or parent, a relative or close friend. Whoever they are, they will surely come.
This person is going to tell you that you are not really trans. They may tell you that trasngender people are delusional and/or imaginary, or they may compare you to a “really trans” Other, You’re not one of those people. They will marshal whatever demons they can to frighten and paralyze you.
I make no guess as to content of the hearts and minds of these naysayers. Maybe they’re deeply sincere, maybe they’re full of shit. It doesn’t actually matter. What matters is that you are ready for them. This is a question of when, not if.
They can come in any form, and they can use any line of reasoning against your transition. Perhaps they will call on your politics, your commitments, your religion. They may insult you, or they may claim to defend you from insults. They may scream, cry, or whisper. They know you, and they will twist what you love against you. They may even come to you as yourself.
This person has no idea what they are talking about. They have never been you. They are probably moderately to profoundly ignorant about transgender issues. They do not know what is best for you. Do not listen to them.
A useful analogy is the attempt to talk a person out of being gay, lesbian or bisexual. It would never work, and it would be completely contrary to the wellbeing of that person. Many LGB people face this. Sadly, many who would never do this to a LGB person will try to do it to you. In my case, for example, out-and-proud lesbian and bisexual women were the fiercest opponents of my transition.
There are some signs by which you can know them. The surer you get about transition, the more dead-set they are against it. They claim to know what is best for you, to know you better than you know yourself. They argue with you, throwing your own memories in your face. Things you’ve said and done, your likes and dislikes, your personal qualities, all become proof and fodder, indications you cannot be trans. They deny that your experiences even exist. They dismiss and demonize other transgender people. The things they say are extremely painful. Your stomach twists and then turns over. There is a dissonant murmur in your bones when they speak. Yet your own mind turns against you. You seriously suspect that they are right.
They may even convince you, for awhile. But hours, weeks, or years later, the truth will come back, over and over. Do not argue with them. This is their game. You cannot win. But you can transition.
Note that this is a different beast from someone merely sharing their reactions to your transition. I am not talking about when someone expresses fear, confusion, shame, guilt, anger or grief–or pride, happiness, love or relief. I am talking about when someone denies your gender identity, questions your judgement, downplays your dysphoria, remarks that many people dislike their body, slanders trans people as a group, imposes a religious or political purity test, scours your life for evidence that you really are your assigned gender, wields whatever leverage they have to try to control you, mocks you, rejects you, implores you, ignores you. They may claim to be just sharing their feelings, of course. It can be subtle or overt, dressed as a sheep or plainly a wolf.
Nothing they say means that you are not trans. On the contrary, that you find yourself here, that someone is telling you these things, is a strong indication that you are trans. If they have to say you’re not, you probably are; if you weren’t, they would never mention it.
Don’t me wrong–it is entirely possible to be confused about your gender and/or trans status. Transition may or may not be right for you. I have no way of knowing. That’s the whole point: only you can know.
If you are trans, then transition–in whatever form that takes for you–is an irreplaceable part of your self-actualization. How can you know? Do not listen to the voices. Do not listen to the voices of the naysayers or the advocates of any variety. Do not listen to the voices in your head, those that berate you or those that long for better futures. Do not listen to my voice.
Listen to the voice that is not a voice. Obey that impulse alone.
My mother taught me the names of flowers. Wandering through her garden, they come unbidden, like fragments of songs I’ve almost forgotten. Crocus, iris, hyacinth. I say the words and then second-guess them, I think that’s what it’s called. I look them up; they’re never wrong.
On the radio I heard about a man who taught his young daughter the names of all the colors, but never mentioned the color of the sky. When he asked her what color the sky is, she wasn’t sure how to answer. White? Blue? She settled on blue, but it took awhile.
Language shapes reality, mediating not only what is know, but what can be known. Closer to us than skin, language is a lens, directing our focus.
Nobody taught me the words for myself. I learned them, a second language. They will never be self-evident like the words I learned in childhood. A hyacinth just is a hyacinth, the distance between name and named minute. I can go years without saying the word, yet it is always there, ready. But the words for myself, for my body, I struggle to pronounce like contorted transliterations. They don’t roll off my tongue.
After dinner this weekend, my mother laughingly mentioned my first therapist, who I saw when I was five or six, who we haven’t talked about in years. I feel we share an awareness of the obvious cause of my childhood troubles, but I can’t be sure–it’s unspoken.
There is no love in my heart! My mother crooned in a singsong whimper, imitating things I told the therapist. I winced and tried to laugh, unsure if she noticed my discomfort. I think she wanted us to laugh about it together, to make it funny, to make it okay–absolution. I was taught to think of my childhood depression as humorous, slightly ridiculous. These days I can’t remember what was so goddamn funny about a five-year old who says “There is no love in my heart” and “I wish I had never been born.”
Recently I told my fiancee the story of the ugly duckling. She said she didn’t know it. My voice trembled as I told her of the awkward baby duck who looked like no one else and had no friends. I couldn’t keep from crying when the ugly duckling at last transformed into a beautiful swan.
I suddenly perceived the desperate hope I’d hung on that cygnet in a picture book. A saltwater mixture of hope and despair had pooled in my heart and stayed there. I carried those tears for twenty years, until I could no longer carry them. I was that hideous duckling–but in real life, I thought then, no one ever turns into a swan. It was a mute grief, failure a foregone conclusion. I had a double secret: I was destined to be someone, and I would never be him.
On the last point, of course, I was wrong.