My love/hate relationship with my trans identity
Some frustrations about being trans
cw: violent transphobia, sexual assault, suicide, and mental illness
Nearly every day I’m the only trans person in a room. Sometimes I’m the first trans person somebody has met, other times they may have had a friend or something that is now a boy, but they haven’t talked in a bit. Sometimes people aren’t sure what to say because they’re worried they might say something offensive or they don’t think it’s their place to talk in front of me. Frequently I know what people think of me without them even saying a word. There’s a lot of information out there about trans people, there are books on histories, on struggles, and personal biographies but I always think its weird that Caitlyn Jenner ends up being the name I hear about the most despite her despicable politics and dangerous views on gender.
No matter what people have read or heard there’s so much misinformation, paranoia, and dangerous legislation. Anti-transgender advocacy groups have a shockingly easy time swinging regular people with falsified horror stories made public by mainstream political discourse [context] [actual ads]. Even our own oppression is used dangerously. The horrifying statistic that 40% of trans people will attempt suicide has been used to demonize us despite having an innumerable amount of evidence that suggests that this happens because we’re dehumanized [more info]. I could go on about the abuse that trans people face in prisons of the wrong gender, and I could go on about how trans people are far more likely to experience homelessness or sexual assault [more info], and I could talk about how these are my friends experiencing this, but I’m not writing this to explain gender to you in any scientific or historical way. I want to write this so you all can know a trans person who isn’t Caitlyn Jenner, Chelsea Manning or your friend you haven’t talked to since high school. I’m not any of those people and I’m sick of being compared to them. I am writing this so you know what I’ve been through and where I’m at so you can understand that I’m a person just like anybody else, but more so that I am not treated like a person and neither are my trans siblings.
I live every day knowing that to love myself is to be hated by the world around me, by people I’ve never met before, by people I call my friends, by my family, and especially by the political and economic framework we live under.
For you to fully understand my oppression and frustration you need to know where I’m coming from, my trans history. From birth I’ve faced a tremendous amount of pressure to be a boy. The expectation that I’d idolize the men in my life, the expectation that I’d be friends with the boys in the neighborhood, and the relentless gendering of media, toys, etc. strongly affected the way I saw the world. I grew up with the expectation that I’d have a low voice and that I should have a manly attitude. I didn’t have a particularly stable childhood for a lot of reasons I won’t get into here, so when I started to notice something different about me and who I wanted to be I had to always make excuses. From as early as I can remember I had been tucking in my genitals when I looked at myself in the mirror. As a teenager I thought it was just some sexual fantasy that all boys had, although I suppose I didn’t connect the dots that this wasn’t sexual and it certainly couldn’t have been when I was doing it at 5 years old. I frequently justified my fear of the barber as an act of teenage rebellion. I hated boys haircuts and I hated the way I looked, but it was because I wasn’t cool like I wanted to be. I put in a lot of effort to try and relate to my boy friends but no matter what I couldn’t ignore that I was somehow much different from them. Getting into a “heterosexual” relationship really dampened my ability to learn about myself, and I just ended up being jealous of who my partner was. At some point I couldn’t deny that the line between shopping for her and with her sometimes got blurry, and same went for the line between being attracted to her and wanting to be her.
Being out of that relationship and finally being alone gave me the freedom to explore who I really was. Slowly, I started to dress the way I wanted to, although constantly denying that I desperately wanted more. Finally coming to terms with my identity nearly a year after all this caused me tremendous emotional pain. I couldn’t live the way I had been living and I really didn’t want to be trans, but I had to come to terms with who I was. I lived in fear for several months, though I tried my best to overcome it, slowly altering certain behaviors until finally I decided I needed to be concrete about what I wanted. Changing my name, telling my family, coworkers and getting on hormones drastically changed my life for the better. I now feel like I can go out in a t-shirt and jeans and still be seen as a woman. I’ve also learned that the notion of woman is totally arbitrary. For a while I tried to pass until I realized that the amount of variety of behaviors, body shapes, face shapes and interests that exist should show without a doubt that these things aren’t innate, and that “passing” is only a symptom of trans oppression. While I call myself a woman, I also understand that the term is socially constructed and that I’m a far more complex individual than that label can possibly describe.
I’m so proud of myself and I’m so glad I’ve become the person I am today. I’m not without flaws and imperfections but I’ve put an enormous amount of effort into becoming someone I can love. For so many years I lived in absolute despair hating who I had to be. Being able to freely explore and express who I am was so enormously validating. I had finally found my true love, myself. To do things I had long dreamed of doing and to be able to share that with the world lifted a fog around my identity, a monument worthy of a new name, Mandy. I am my perfect girl. I’ve worked so hard to become who I have become today, to start completely from scratch building an identity free from the desires and expectations of others. I’m not nearly everything I want to be quite yet and I’m okay with that. I know my self discovery won’t conclude overnight, next year, or on the eve of my last breath, but every time I release an inhibition I had, every time I buy something I’ve always dreamed of wearing, or relieve a childhood insecurity, I feel a rush of joy.
I was born with my body and I was born beautiful. Even before I started hormones I could look at myself in the mirror and see the woman inside of me. When I was with someone who saw me for who I was I felt amazing. Hormones have made my skin softer and smoothed my rigid features. I love my small breasts, my wide shoulders, and my long legs. I love my cheekbones and my long face. I love my genitals, and I wouldn’t ever change them. I love the way I can use my body to tell the world who I am. I love to dance around my house to blaring death metal, move my hips from side to side as I walk, play with my hair, put on makeup, and dress the way I want to dress.
Of course, I say all this, but I still have dysphoria. My hips are small and I wish they were wider, but that doesn’t make me any less beautiful. My voice is low and I hate the way it sounds on video, however it’s an important vessel of expression and I love it for that. My wardrobe is filled with boys clothes that I’ve modified/cut/tucked to match who I am with what I have. I’ve bought things I regret buying, but that regret is an expression of my anxiety and some day I’ll be able to love that part of myself.
I love Mandy. I love being trans. I love being a lesbian. I love being bisexual. I love being poly-amorous. I love my friends. I love my interests. I love my family. I love that I get to spend every waking hour with myself, alone or otherwise. I love that every day I learn more about who I am.
The cruel reality is that I don’t feel loved. Ironically, the world I live in pushes me to despise myself. Nearly every day the thought runs through my head that I wish I wasn’t born this way, or sometimes at all. Learning I was trans was traumatizing and I mean that with the full weight of that word. While I felt enormous amounts of joy when exploring my identity, it was met with equal or greater despair. For months, I feared what would happen to me when I went outside. The smallest amounts of gender non-conformity could have violent consequences, and they have.
Everyday I’m faced with violence, threats, harassment or other forms of discrimination. While victories are made on a regular basis for LGBT people, especially in the last decade, we also regularly keep losing. My right to use my preferred bathroom, something so fundamentally basic, was just put on the ballot in Massachusetts. Already I fear public restrooms with my life. I have a mental blacklist of places in the area that have threatened violence to trans people just trying to find a place to pee. These laws will do nothing but force me into more violent situations. These laws ignore statistics of sexual assault, violence, and harassment that happens already, and in effect will make them worse, but sway people over by demonizing us as predators. This is such a low bar. Even small victories like non-discrimination bills or legal justice are being won on margins, most with just barely over a majority approval. I think a lot about the other 50%. That’s nearly every other person I see thinking I’m dangerous to children, or that I’m some kind of gross fetishist. Most of them are silent but still every day I hear the ones who choose to speak up. A friend had told me the other day that they got spooked by someone yelling at them on the bus and I was so consumed by how trivial it seemed to me that I forgot how awful it really is to be publicly yelled at like that. I remembered the first time I was yelled at because I wore a skirt on a trip to CVS, and how I had completely dissociated and forgot what I was even doing in the first place. I walk down that street every day and still I think about how awful it made me feel. To that friend, I’m sorry I didn’t show the empathy you deserved. I wish I wasn’t so desensitized to this. I wish it didn’t happen as often as it does.
Here’s a short list of things I experience every day, and some other recent occurrences:
- People looking back at me as I walk by
- People smirking and holding back laughter as I walk by
- People nudging their friends as I walk by
- Getting my ID checked for several seconds longer than most
- People checking me out until they find something they don’t like
- People playing the “what gender is that” game
- People pointing at me and yells “that’s a man!” when I’m in line at a store
- Men looking at me angrily and saying “those fucking gays…” to their wives
- Someone yelling “fucking disgusting” and ranting about how disgraceful I am on the bus
- People following me down the streets screaming “LADYBOY”
- Women screaming to the whole train that my friend and I look amazing, making sure everyone knew how we were trans and she was so proud, outing us as trans and making us the uncomfortable center of attention on the train
- Getting catcalled, then seconds later “god damn, it’s a fucking man”
- Watching a violent man harass women in a train station, hoping and praying that when he gets to me he won’t be interested
- Being noticed by a man on the street, prompting him to follow me down the street before yelling “you can’t get away, I’ll fucking kill you!” (I was on my bike, thank god)
- Getting cornered by a man on the street telling me he’s not afraid to hurt people, he’s the most dangerous man I had ever met, he loves the way I look and never knew he liked dick until a little bit ago, he really wanted more, and not being able to back away. being terrified for my life as he pulls out a knife before his friend calls his name to tell him that they had someone he needed to take care of
… and these all happened within 2 months
This is every day for me. The days I’m not harassed are the days I either don’t go outside or I take special routes where I wont run into anybody. I end up wearing headphones and playing loud music nearly every time I go outside to drown it out. I try to zone out, I try to forget about it but it’s often so difficult not to notice and so often do these people go out of their way to make sure I know that they hate me. I’ve become desensitized to it. I know it’s happening and I just have to accept it. I’m painfully aware that one day I won’t be so lucky. I will be assaulted again. I want so badly to be normal. I want so badly for people to think of me like a normal person but it will never happen. And I live in a relatively safe part of a relatively safe city. I live in a place where I can be openly gay and not be legally killed for it. I’ve never experienced homelessness or had to rely on sex work to feed myself, but my friends have and so so many more trans people have suffered much worse.
As I said before, there’s so much demonization and misinformation out there. Trying your best to learn as much as you can is so important, but also to constantly be educating the people you know and stressing the same for them. If you have questions, look for real answers or even ask me! Science continues to back up trans people and I think that’s a really useful place to start. I have a presentation that can be read and shared if you want to learn more basics or share with a friend: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1sOI4jB7U_kN-9u3uL2d8DzMiR_plAn6XIg5IOy5AF3I/edit?usp=sharing
Here’s some tips from the presentation:
- Get in the habit of using ungendered words/pronouns whenever possible: Quite often language unnecessarily enforces a gender binary and often results in the unintentional (or sometimes deliberate) misgendering of trans people. To get more used to pronouns it’s helpful to get in the habit of thinking with “they/them” pronouns until you ask! The more often you do this the easier and more natural it will be, and the less likely you will risk unintentionally misgendering someone, and getting asked about pronouns always feels good!!
Avoid: sir/ma’am, gentleman/woman, brother/sister, dude, man, guy
Instead try: friend, folks, sibling, relative, people
- Names/Pronouns are retroactive: Always refer to a trans person by their prefered name and pronouns even when referring to them in the past. Trans people’s genders don’t change when they come out. Very frequently trans people have always felt a certain way, or they are fluid and its not actually the act of coming out that has changed their gender. Pronouns should always be respected unless the person in question requests or gives permission otherwise. This is especially important when talking about a friend or family member who has recently come out.
- Avoid framing gender as a choice: While it’s often a decision or choice for a trans person to come out and publicly express their identity, a trans person’s gender is something beyond their control. Because gender is the result of one’s conditions and experiences, framing it as a choice cheapens the struggle and pain that trans people face every day of their lives. And “transgender” is not something that happens to people, it’s an identity that again, is a result of all the conditions and experiences that make a person who they are.
- Avoid conflating genitals with gender: Not all women have vaginas, not all men have penises. When you must, try to use phrases like “people with vaginas” or “people with penises”. Also avoid associating feminism with vaginal imagery. Feminism and reproductive justice are very closely linked but they most certainly aren’t identical!!
- Use phrases that don’t dehumanize trans people: Words like transman or transwoman effectively “third gender” trans people by separating them from men or women. Put a space in between e.g. trans man, trans woman. Avoid derogatory uses of trans terms, like calling someone “transgendered” or slurs. Words like these often cast being trans as a mental illness or some kind of disease and are incorrect and often very hurtful. Trans is not a separate gender.
- Stop Tokenizing Trans People: Trans people deserve to take pride in being trans, and rightfully so. It’s also important to be an ally and help fight for their rights and raise public consciousness about trans oppression. But trans people also deserve to live normal lives. They deserve to not be reminded every day that they’re trans. They deserve to be treated the same way as everybody else. Tokenizing trans people, or overcompensating is always transparent and can frequently be dehumanizing.