Cis People — Stop Expecting to Understand Transness
Being Trans is a Fundamentally Unrelatable Experience to Cis People — That’s What Makes Them Cis
I just had to spend my therapy session today explaining the horror and misery of the trans experience to my cis gay therapist. It isn’t his fault. It’s a cultural misconception. Cis people, ESPECIALLY cisqueer people — read this.
Cis people need to kill the idea that you can relate to being trans. In any way. It is a fundamentally unrelatable experience to cis people. No metaphor, no approximation can do it justice. Accept that now. Every cis person, including cis queer people, is an ALLY at most.
Cis people cannot speak for trans people. Cis queer people cannot speak for trans people. And your continued insistence on doing so is killing us.
Being trans is a fundamentally unrelatable experience for cis people. That is what makes you cis. Any attempts to relate it to cis experiences do nothing but minimize and dilute us in an attempt to make us palatable to cis people.
Trying to make trans experiences relatable to cis people means that cis people do not understand why we need to transition, or be seen as ourselves, because they do not need to transition, and they are already seen as themselves. It means they just “ask questions”. The questions aren’t inherently wrong. But the assumption that a cis person’s life experience is in any way applicable to a trans person’s is. The questions cis people ask come from their own life experience. “Can’t they wait until they’re older?” “Aren’t you moving a bit fast?” These questions come from cis people attempting to put themselves into a trans person’s situation — and finding that they do not want to transition. Once it's laid out like this, it’s obvious — cis people do not want to transition because they are not trans.
However, posing “the trans issue” as being in any way relatable to cis people validates this perspective. It validates the thinking that because cis people are horrified at the idea of transition, they assume trans people are making a bad decision or a mistake.
Transition is NOT a matter of “self expression” or a “journey to find yourself”, it is a matter of survival. Self expression and finding yourself are byproducts of being able to live with less pain clouding your awareness for the first time.
The ONLY potential metaphor I have ever seen to be even remotely accurate is one of chronic pain. So, cis people, imagine with me. Imagine that since you were born, for as long as you can remember, you experience horrible aching in your muscles. It’s painful enough to be distracting. It’s painful enough that sometimes you can’t stop yourself from massaging the muscle just to try to get even a small amount of relief. People think this is odd, and they think your avoidance of certain activities is odd, but not notable.
You’ve experienced this all your life. No one around you mentions it. You assume it’s normal. You assume everyone’s muscles ache so badly you can’t focus sometimes. You see other people doing high level sports and wonder how they can do that so well with the pain. You might even practice. You might exercise to hope that it helps. You might get good enough at it to play sports yourself! But the pain doesn’t go away. You’ve tried to describe the pain to a few close friends, but they got confused. It’s difficult to describe, it’s so constant. You try not to worry about it. But it hurts. Most of the time you ignore it, you’re used to it.
Then one day, you see something. Maybe you meet someone new, maybe you see a post online, maybe you read an article. But it’s someone describing the exact pain you’ve always had! The description is so accurate you could have written it yourself, so you do more research. You find out it has a name! Let’s call our metaphorical muscle pain Constant Aching Muscle Syndrome, or CAMS. You start researching it. But you’ve heard some bad things. You’ve only ever heard of CAMS on the news, where people say it’s not real, or the people who claim to have it are just selfish and unscientific. But all the descriptions match your pain exactly! It’s real, and you know that because you’re experiencing it. The research tells you there are treatments for the pain. It’s possible to live your life without being in so much constant pain that you are unable to participate in anything, that you are distracted and uncomfortable and anxious all the time. It’s held you back from everything.
Sometimes, the pain has hurt so badly you’ve thought about killing yourself to escape it. Sometimes the thought of living the rest of your long, long life in constant agony, unable to participate or enjoy anything through the cloud of pain, makes you suicidal. And you do research. And there are treatments. Maybe not to cure the pain, but to make it so much less unbearable. And for the first time in your life, you genuinely hope you might feel better. You hope you might be able to function or be able to participate in all you’ve missed. But CAMS is stigmatized. Lots of people think it's made up. Lots of doctors too. It’s joked about on SNL and the news. You hear rumors of people faking CAMS to get special treatment. But you know it’s real! But unfortunately, the treatments are very visible. People will know.
So you have to tell them. You gather your research, showing that it’s real, you get your courage together, and you tell those close to you. You hope they’ll at least be neutral. You’re met with scrutiny. “How do you know you have it?” “Have you been diagnosed?” “What if you’re wrong and the treatments are for nothing?” “I’ve known you forever, and you definitely don’t have CAMS!” “It seems like you’re making this decision really quickly, slow down.” Your muscles hurt so bad you can barely keep it together every day.
The people in your life don’t believe you. They tell you, “well, I’ve had a charley’s horse before, but it went away.” But they don’t understand, you can barely think! This is NOT a muscle cramp. This is agony. And there’s a treatment. The thought of not getting it causes panic.
You go to a doctor. There are no tests for CAMS. So you hope against hope that they believe you, and maybe give you some pain medication. Most won’t. “Maybe therapy would help you stop having these phantom pains?” You’re in agony. There are treatments. Those around you keep telling you, “well, I never needed pain medication, so why should you?” and you want to scream that it’s because they aren’t in pain. They don’t need it. But they don’t believe you when you say you’re hurting. The thought of KNOWING there are treatments, and then going back to living with the pain, for no reason other than to make those around you comfortable, makes you suicidal. Why don’t your loved ones want you to feel better? Why don’t they believe you? They say, “well, we know CAMS is fashionable, but I think you’re blowing this out of proportion”. You want to yell that it’s not fashionable, that it hurts, and that so many people around you have been cruel, not supportive, but no one is listening. “Do you understand the treatment is permanent?” “What if no one wants to date you because you’ve been treated?” “What if I like you as you are right now, in pain?” “Are you just trying to escape your old life? Are you bored?” “Are you sure it’s not just a kink?”
You learn to downplay the pain, because the people around you, the ones without CAMS, keep trying to relate, and inevitably downplay it. Well-meaning people tell you, “well, I’ve pulled plenty of muscles, so I can relate, and I want to help you get treatment!” and it stings. But these people are the only ones willing to listen. So you nod and you say, “thank you so much!” You tell them they’re a great friend. Let’s say you finally get treatment. You can think clearly for the first time in your life. You see a future for yourself for the first time. Those around you are visibly uncomfortable. The braces you wear as part of your treatment make them uncomfortable. Some people say it grosses them out. Other people say they’re a fetish of theirs. You hear horror stories every day, of people being killed for their braces. But god, they feel so much better. You have less pain for once in your life. You can exist in peace. You can pursue actual goals, and live your life. Every day, people without CAMS give you their opinion on how you should feel, and every day you smile and nod and try to ignore it.
Eventually, the braces come off. No one looks at you funny anymore. But the comments don’t stop from certain people in your life. And every day, CAMS is debated publicly in front of you. You tell people the treatment saved your life. No one listens. You can’t understand why people get so upset about your medical treatment. You can’t understand why it matters to people that you might have had CAMS in the past. You can’t understand why people keep trying to get you to stop taking treatment. “Oh, wow, you’re really doing this?” You think about how much more you would have been able to accomplish, and how much better your life would have gone, if you’d heard about CAMS earlier, or gotten treatment earlier. You see kids with CAMS getting treatment and you could cry, you’re so happy for them.
Legislators start deciding CAMS is a scam to get pain meds. Every person with CAMS that you know starts telling them how important it is, how much it saved their lives, but no one listens. No one without CAMS seems to care. Laws are passed. No meds for kids with CAMS. The same meds are given to kids for muscle sprains. You can’t understand why no one believes you. Kids who have CAMS and seek treatment are punished. They’re bullied and abused in the hopes they’ll give up on ever finding treatment, and learn to ignore the pain and live with it.
If they take away your treatment… the thought sends you into panic. You can’t go back to the pain you used to have. You won’t. You can’t go back to being in so much pain you can barely think, let alone live.
Kids with CAMS are being criminalized. Everyone in your life, your friends, your coworkers, your neighbors — if they know you have CAMS, they don’t say anything to you. For most of them, it’s not even on their radar. It doesn’t matter. It’s not a big deal.
How do you cope with the fact that most people around you would let you die simply because they don’t believe you? How do you cope with shouting with as much energy as you have for anyone without CAMS to lift a finger to help you, and no one moving?
Why do they hate you so much for hurting, and for trying not to hurt? Why does that inspire so much anger, and violence, and attacks against you?
If any cis people reading this thread think I’m being hyperbolic, I am not. “More than half of transgender male teens who participated in the survey reported attempting suicide in their lifetime, while 29.9 percent of transgender female teens said they attempted suicide. Among non-binary youth, 41.8 percent of respondents stated that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives.”
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Stopping trans kids from transitioning won’t make them cis. It will make them dead. Call your goddamned reps.
These bills have escalated from excluding trans girls from sports to classifying using correct pronouns for trans children as child abuse. It’s naive to think they will stop here, or that these bills don’t kill.
If it took this thread — which was excruciatingly painful and personal to write — for you to believe trans people about what we experience and what we need, do better. Respect people that you don’t relate to. Value people that you don’t relate to. Yours is not the only experience that matters.
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