Being Trans Doesn’t Make Me Brave

This morning I watched a video by trans YouTuber Nikita Dragun that made me think long and hard about my trans identity, and what it will mean for me in the future. And with this came the realization that there is one thing a “passing” trans person may not tell cis people about, which is the constant fear of being outed that never really goes away.

I’ve been on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) for over nine months now, and in the past weeks I’ve noticed I’ve been starting to “pass” as a man more often. While pretty much all of my closer friends know that I’m trans and have seen me gradually transition over the course of our friendship — and I make no effort to conceal that part of my identity around them — I am not out to the people I’ve met since the start of the semester. Having changed my name and gender marker legally, I feel no need to reveal that part of my identity without good reason, for both my personal safety but also my comfort. This has put me in an odd position where passing socially has led to strangers and newer acquaintances treating me in a way with which I am not accustomed: men are friendlier than they would have been if they thought I was a woman, and women seem to distance themselves from me.

I’ll be honest when I say it makes me somewhat uncomfortable, and I don’t really know how to act around these people because — as much as older people may try to deny it — I was socialized into behaving “like a woman” for the first eighteen years of my life. And since I never really bothered to push back against this role that society had given me, I still find myself more comfortable around women, and shying away from men. Around men I’m more guarded, less open to conversation, because that was what society expected of me; going to Catholic school with rigid gender roles for most of my formative years didn’t exactly help. It’s a hard habit to break.

Now, at my new job where most of my coworkers are cis men, I’m constantly afraid of somehow outing myself; that something about my behavior, my mannerisms, my vocabulary will tip me off to my coworkers as different. Regardless of whether or not you “pass,” the fear of being outed is a ghost that haunts a great number of binary (or binary-leaning) trans people on a daily basis. It’s not just about the humiliation, or the awkward tension that may follow. For many, being outed can be a matter of life and death.

Because of this, the pressure many of us face to “pass” can be overwhelming and a tremendous source of anxiety. On days where I don’t bind or wear a packer, no matter how loose my pants or shirt is, I still find myself thinking that everyone is staring at me, that I am being read by everyone as a woman. And this fear of mine is not unfounded: there have been several instances where I’ve been out in public and have noticed strangers looking me up and down, examining me for a bulge or some other sign that I fall into their perception of “male” or “female.”

Usually, I feel safe on my liberal college campus knowing that I have not only a network of supporting friends, but also the luxury of often “passing” as a man. But the minute I step off campus, I’m plagued by a constant anxiety that every person I interact with sees me as something I am not. Waiting on line at Starbucks or the pharmacy, I can’t help but brace myself for a “miss” or “ma’am.” Using a public, gendered restroom means having to decide between having a panic attack over going to the toilet or feeling safe and risking a urinary tract infection. And if you think that sounds silly, ask any trans person about their experiences using a public restroom. I can name several people who have been questioned in women’s restrooms and stared at in men’s restrooms. One good friend of mine was spat on in a bathroom in Manhattan, of all places.

When I came out on Facebook almost a year ago, people called me brave. But being true to myself and facing these situations unique to a trans person doesn’t make me any braver than my cis counterparts, because it’s not something I really choose to do. It’s either I live my life authentically, or go back to pretending to be someone I am not and likely hurting myself in the process. If I weren’t living my life the way I am now, there’s a strong chance I would be miserable, if not already dead. This doesn’t warrant strangers patronizing or dehumanizing me. I’m just trying to live my life in peace and survive, which makes me just as human as anyone else.