I’m a trans woman and I don’t know how to do this
A month in the life of a trans woman on the internet
This is not going to be a quick read, sorry. This post has been on my mind for several weeks now and I just can’t hold it in anymore. Also, just so you know, the original headline of this post was “I’m a trans woman and I want to die” but I don’t want to scare my mom, so I changed it. I’m a “prominent” trans woman on the internet and this last month has been one of the worst of my life.
I’m not sure even where to start to be honest with you. This year, my first living outwardly as a woman, has been tough but fulfilling. I’ve built a successful writing career out of nothing, and I’ve finally felt the curse of gender dysphoria lift from my mind as my hormones have taken their full effect. Transitioning has been a life saver, but… there’s a price to pay for this life I’m living. I’ve been doxed, mocked, harassed, abused, raped, and threatened.
A month ago this week I had a transition related procedure done. It was painful but important for my gender dysphoria. I put it on credit to avoid asking people for money for it online. My doxers specifically target me further whenever I ask for money online. Their tactics work because I refuse to ask for help now.
The day after my procedure, I had lunch with a well known critic of trans health care who shall remain nameless. The lunch was uncomfortable at best as they kept asking me loudly very personal questions about my transness. I’m pretty sure the entire restaurant knew I was trans by the end of the meal. I wish cis people would stop assuming that everyone in the world is cool with trans people, especially trans women, or that trans women don’t mind being outed in a restaurant in a strange city. In retrospect, I should have declined the lunch, but I admit that part of me is still convinced that I can change anyone’s mind about trans issues, it’s a fool’s errand.
Life on Twitter for a trans woman with a verified account is a constant drumbeat of shittiness. Sometimes I wish I could open up my notifications for everyone to see the sheer volume of insults and dehumanizing comments I get. “You’re a man” and the passive aggressive “dudes” (with the inevitable “I say dude for everyone, dude”) when I respectfully ask them to stop. I get called a faggot, or “it”. People I’ve never even met before in my life feel qualified to comment on my genitalia. I’m not some science project for your sick curiosity, I’m a person. I remember what it was like to be treated with dignity. I miss those days. Why was my dignity conditional on my cisness?
Last week, violence broke out at a gender critical meeting in the UK. The first I heard of it was when pictures of a prominent TERF (an acronym for “trans exclusionary radical feminist” invented in the 70’s by cis feminists to denote the difference between radical feminists who reject the womanhood of trans women and the radical feminists who include trans women) surfaced online showing her with a bruised cheek. The screaming headline claimed that she’d been viciously mugged by four trans activists. I was implicated in encouraging it immediately, despite the fact that I live in the US and I have no connection with the trans people involved. But when you’re a prominent trans woman on the internet, you become the scary boogie man of every bigot’s nightmares.
Soon after, conveniently edited footage of the incident surfaced, it looked bad. For a moment I was ashamed. That’s the honest truth. But then the full video surfaced, and I realized the lengths to which I’d been gaslit.
The full video didn’t show some vicious beat down, as newspapers across the UK had claimed, the truth was far muddier. What I saw was a group of trans activists who were peacefully assembled with signs while the surrounding groups screamed at them. Then I saw Maria, the woman from the headlines. She appeared to be filming her own group of protesters before turning her camera towards the trans folx. She started at about 25 feet away before moving closer, appearing to be yelling something at the trans people gathered. As she got to about 10 feet away, one of the trans people ran at her, and then past her, feigning going for her camera but without actually touching it. It was pretty random but Maria appeared to barely notice.
What I saw next was just completely bizarre. Maria moved right up to the crowd and shoved her camera in the faces of the trans protesters. I don’t know about you but an uninvited camera inches from my face is a definite intrusion, especially in a world where TERFs are well known for doxing people. A normal human reaction would be to block the camera, which the trans crowd tried to do at first. When one of the trans people actually grabbed the camera out of Maria’s hand, Maria ended up getting that smaller trans person in a headlock (seen clearly in the video here at :34 seconds), later musing about how she was kicking as hard as she could.
It was only at this point that several trans people tried to intervene, the person who had run at her at the beginning ended up striking her in the face, but everyone disengaged as soon as Maria let go of the smaller trans person. Yes Maria took a hit from one person, and that is unfortunate, but the other three are clearly trying to separate the two. What were the trans people to do, watch their friend get kicked more? It was hardly an example of systemic gendered violence as so many prominent radical feminists have claimed, it was a situation which had clear escalations on both sides of this protest.
Women get mugged because of their smaller size, women experience sexual violence because men can get away with it, this camera dispute at least has several more layers to it than typical gendered violence, and frankly, as a rape survivor myself, the claim that the incident was a vicious display of male violence is an insult to myself and my experience as well as other vitcims of systemic and random male violence. Besides that, I had denounced the violence that had taken place.
But none of those things mattered to my harassers as TERF after TERF dogpiled me, taking out of context screenshots and claiming I was a “Men’s Rights Advocate who endorses domestic abuse”. I was told that I wanted to beat women into silence, I sat there and watched my notifications as lie after lie came across my timeline. Everything they imagined I believed was listed back to me, I was evil simply because I’m a trans woman. It all felt so hopeless. There’s no countering such blind hate.
Cycles of Abuse
TERFs have a system to their abusive cycle. Initially, smaller sock puppet accounts will gang up on a trans woman, sending insults, poking, prodding. They know our triggers by now. Mock our appearance, call us men, demand deep personal recountings of trauma to prove our oppression bonafides. None of it makes a difference. As soon as you say something even remotely useful to these abusers, they screenshot and disseminate it through their network. More prominent TERFs gleefully show off how fucked up these misogynistic, abusive men in dresses really are, which in turn triggers more harassment and abuse to their target and anyone supporting their target.
If a transgression is large enough, the large media connected radical feminist accounts get involved. They’ll say things like “I’m trying to be open-minded but I just can’t ignore the evidence.” Except, they’re in on the system, This one-sidedness is by design. A design to crush trans women specifically. THat’s how you end up with Hadley Freeman consistently writing transmisogynistic hottakes in The Guardian. The left-leaning British press is especially rife with TERFs who masquerade as rogue feminists, willing to speak “the unspeakable”. Except, they all write the same things in the same papers. Their views are the most commonly spoken but they insist on gaslighting trans women by pretending to be the threatened truth tellers. I call bullshit.
How many of these women make a living by shitting on trans women? How many trans women make a living by being a columnist? The numbers are astounding, and not at all balanced. Don’t piss on me and tell me it’s raining.
Covering Trans Murders
That same week, I worked on one of my most challenging assignments to date. I can’t go into details because it hasn’t been published yet but it involved talking with the mother, sister, and best friend of three separate murdered trans women. In the backdrop of people on Twitter screaming about my male violence, I bore witness to the devastation that male violence has on my trans sisters.
The mother of one of the victims informed me that her now dead daughter had been doxed by a prominent and outspoken TERF who shall remain nameless, along with 44 members of her family, neighbors, and close friends. There’s no evidence that the doxing was connected to her murder, though the person who pulled the trigger was also on the dox list.
This is the reality facing trans women who come out and exist in the present state of the world. At best, we get continuously harassed and abused, maybe even doxed, while the constant threat of murder lingers at the back of our minds. My only question is, why does it have to be this way?
Suicidality of Life
The other horrible news I got last week is that one of my local trans friends had taken her own life. I sat next to her at my first trans support group and we became fast friends. I didn’t say anything at that first meeting, I was mostly terrified to be there in the first place. But a few meetings later we both had to step out of the room when one of the other group members was discussing their suicidality. It was the first time I think we actually spoke to each other. I asked her if she was okay, I complimented her hair, and then we just sat together, communicating without speaking, sharing experiences through the silence.
She was younger and much prettier than I was, but I would always look for her first at any trans events. We went to Trans Day of Remembrance together last year and I marched with her and her then girlfriend at a local protest against Trump’s revoking the Obama-era trans students guidance. The last time I saw my friend was at Pride. She marched while myself and my oldest daughter were watching from the sidewalk, but when I saw her and her now fiancee, I burst through the crowd and gave them both a warm hug, congratulating them on their new engagement. That’s the last time I saw her.
Our local LGBTQ equality center held drop in hours for several days after her passing came to light. I needed to get out of my apartment where I live and work by myself so I went. It was good to see my other trans friends again, even though a devastating event was what brought us back together. When I got home from the drop in, I checked my Twitter notifications, multiple TERFs had been harassing me the entire time I had been away. What a privileged life I lead, huh?
My friend’s funeral was this past Saturday, when I got back in my car with mascara stained cheeks, nothing could have prepared me for the horror that would await. While I was gone, several people in my Twitter mentions had been having an argument. And then I saw what one of the TERFs tweeted and it stopped me cold. Their argument was that trans women aren’t really suicidal, we just threaten suicide like abusers do. Imagine being in my heels in that moment… I’m not sure how long I cried in my hot car but that tweet broke something inside me.
Apparently this claim that trans people aren’t truly suicidal is gaining steam in certain transphobic corners of the internet. The theory, led by sexologists Ray Blanchard and J. Michael Bailey, claims that while 40% of trans people may attempt suicide, most don’t end up succeeding in their attempts. Therefore, they conclude in an essay they cowrote for 4thwavenow.com, a TERF hate site, trans suicidality is really just attention seeking behavior and equivalent to a common abuser’s tactic of threatening suicide to get their way.
Look these people are fucking monsters. While they sit back and theorize from a distance, we’re out here burying our friends. We’re out here doing the work talking friends out of ending it. How dare these assholes present their unsolicited opinions as if it’s fact. To make matters worse, Blanchard is CELEBRATED in sexology circles. He recently was awarded the 2017 Richard Green Lifetime Achievement award from the International Academy of Sex Research, despite a history of pathologizing trans women, and history of attempting to normalize pedophilia (which he labels hebophilia) in his research. These men have made a living off of telling anti-trans bigots what they want to hear and their industry rewards them for it and feminists celbrate the work of a man who advocates for destigmatizing men attracted to underage girls. I just cannot wrap my head around the hero worship.
In the meantime, studies conducted by trans people about trans people struggle to get funding. Trans academics are systematically run out of research projects when they get too loud.
Media Manipulation and Gaslighting
Just this week the anti-trans British media cottage industry turned out the outrage du jour, when a certified hypnotherapist played fast and loose with his research guidelines and then cried free speech to the press. James Caspian attempted to study people who had detransitioned after genital reassignment surgery, however, when he couldn’t find enough participants, he expanded his subject criteria to include trans people who detransitioned without GRS and was thus forced to rework his thesis, which was then rejected by a university ethics committee.
The issue with the press coverage of this event is that it is, by design, one sided. Because the matter is under investigation by the university, they are not allowed to comment on specifics. Instead, the press has decided that whatever Mr. Caspian said happened is the truth and now trans people are yet again painted as deniers of free speech by the UK’s largest newspapers.
I guess my only question is how can you be silenced when every major newspaper in the UK and several US news sites give you an exclusive platform to tell your side of the story?
And of course this all trickles down into the cycle of TERF sock puppet abuse in my Twitter mentions. Now I’m “a threat to free speech”, or “anti-science”, despite the reams of research showing there’s a biological underpinning to my trans experience.
I guess what I am wondering is why does my life need to be validated by science? Why can’t you just believe me when I tell you about myself? I’m constantly reminded that women’s experiences are always ignored by people who constantly ignore my experiences.
Am I Cute Enough? Who Cares?
And the constant nitpicking at my appearance… like… I know it’s meant to draw a hostile reaction from me. Said hostile reaction would then be screenshot and held up as proof of my “maleness”. Yes, I know my hairline has receded, yes I know you can sometimes still see my beard shadow (look I’ve spent an obscene amount of money on hair removal, I’m doing the best I can), yes I know I’m 6'1. Am I to believe these are now feminist appearance standards for acceptable womanhood?
This morning I went to my usual breakfast spot, I’ve been bed-ridden this week with the flu but my appetite had come roaring back. An older man at the table next to me was talking with the owner of the diner when I overheard him misgender me. The owner, an older cis gay man immediately but loudly corrected him but it was too late, I was completely mortified.
I honestly never get misgendered. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve even accidentally been misgendered by a stranger since I went full time as Kate. The same old doubts came rushing back to me. Was it my hair, was it my shoulders, had I shaved well enough. I was wearing yoga pants, a v-neck tee, and an open long sleeve button up shirt and no make up. I didn’t much see the point in getting gussied up for a quick trip out for scrambled eggs and breakfast potatoes.
Afterwards the owner of the place sat at my table and told me I wasn’t trying hard enough. “If I had tried to do what you’re doing, I would make myself as beautiful as possible everyday. Face full of make up, pretty clothes and shoes. Look at you, you’re making it tough for people to get it right” he said to me. I guess it was my fault then. Whatever, pass the potatoes, jerk.
Except, you know what would happen if I followed his advice, right? TERFs will claim I’m upholding toxic gender stereotypes. They’ll say that my claim to womanhood is simply because I like wearing dresses or playing with make up. They’ll ask why I can’t just be a man who likes dress and make up? Except… I don’t really like dresses and make up all that much. They’re both a pain in the ass to be completely honest. I get the utility of a skirt when it’s very hot out, or for nights out, but I feel no need to dress up in the most feminine of trappings.
I do admit a brief period when I took my feminine appearance to extreme lengths, but heck, I was new at this. Am I not allowed a chance to explore a style for this body that estrogen has now given me? And besides, there’s a kernel of truth in the diner owner’s words. People take me more seriously as a woman in real life when I’m presenting an obviously feminine outer layer. What’s a trans girl to do?
In the end, I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. It’s an impossible tightrope to walk and it’s completely of the making of cis society. Sometimes I can tell I’m a real woman because everyone has an unsolicited opinion about my appearance.
I do apologize for the length of this piece, I just have so much to say after feeling voiceless for a month.
Hate Crimes Against Us
Yesterday I learned of the murder of Ally Steinfeld, a seventeen year old trans girl who had recently come out. She was brutally and heinously murdered, dismembered, and her remains were burnt and stuffed in a plastic bag. According to reports her eyes and genitals had been stabbed out, and yet, the police department insists there’s no proof of a hate crime.
Excuse me?!? No evidence??? Y’all are obsessed with trans genitals. You have no issue just walking up to a trans person and asking what’s between our legs. It’s a constant on Twitter. “You have a penis, you’re a man.” I’m sorry, but you’re incompetent as an investigator if you truly believed a trans girl can be stabbed in the genitals and it isn’t a hate crime. In the comments section of the article I read about it, there was more than one woman praising the murderers. The words of a good friend came to mind as I read the hate, “I don’t know how to exist in a world that doesn’t believe I’m real”. Those words have been on my mind for awhile actually.
Doxing Kids is Radical Politics Now, or Something
Lastly the month came full circle last night. A parent of a trans kid DMed me in a panic. Apparently Kaeley Triller Haver, organizer behind the push for a referendum on trans rights in Washington state, and a writer for The Federalist, had infiltrated a private Facebook group meant to provide support for parents of trans children. As I looked through her Twitter timeline, she had been posting screenshots from the strictly private group, including the names and pictures of trans children. Triller is not a TERF, she is a religious conservative with ties to the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council and she has found a livlihood in peddling transphobia towards kids.
The threat of doxing from anti-trans activists is ever present. I’ve been doxed on more than one occasion, including having pre-transition pictures of myself and my then newborn baby posted and mocked on a TERF forum. As a parent, that act of hostility enrages me. I felt so violated. I am furious for the families now being threatened by Triller’s infiltration of a formerly safe space. Doxing is an act of violence. Taking and posting pictures with the intent of doxing people simply because they are trans should also be considered hostile. We don’t dox transphobes and TERFs because we are not the ones on attack in this dynamic. There’s a reason why there’s a TERFblocker program for Twitter but no equivalent “transblocker”.
Okay, I’ve gone on long enough. I just wish you all could see the world through my eyes. The visceral and hostile reaction I get for asserting my womanhood in this world is hard to take. It feels like the reactions are getting worse and I don’t know what to do. Why is it that my presence on this planet is such an affront to so many people? I have never threatened violence. I have never said “Punch TERFs” or “Kill all TERFs” nor do I endorse those statements when others say it. All I have done is tell the story of my life and the lives of other trans people. It’s not my fault that you want to torture me in return with endless abuse and gaslighting.
What do you want me to do? Why don’t you just ignore my experiences and define my life for me, hmm? That’s totally not a thing that any other woman on this planet has experienced before ever. Seriously, if you gave the same abuse to cis woman that I get on an everyday basis, there’d be op eds in every newspaper about how misogynistic TERF abuse is. But because I have a dick, that somehow makes it okay? All I’m doing is asking to be allowed to live my life, please.
(Author’s note: This is but a tiny collection of screenshots of the abuse directed at me, most of the worst I just report and block and don’t screenshot)