On the importance of honesty, identity, and perseverance.
Author’s note: This interview is a part of a series that I conducted for my Body Politics final. I interviewed different college students asking them questions about sexuality, relationships, and more. I was curious to know how people felt before and after they came out to their loved ones and family. What changed for them? And if they haven’t come out yet, what’s holding them back?
What do you identify as?
Hi, I’m Remy. I identify as a bisexual transgender man. I have certain issues with the term “transgender” though. I guess I should start there.
Yeah, let’s start there. Someone I talked to recently said that they feel like there are so many labels nowadays…are they still significant?
That’s not actually my qualm with it. It’s interesting because I wear the label bisexual as a term of pride. It’s something that took a long time for me to be okay with and I am very proud of it.
I don’t identify those feelings with my trans label because…I guess it could be a bit of internalized transphobia that I still need to work through.
Yes. Full disclosure, I don’t care about saying this — I see a therapist. I need to legally, in order to get certain medications and surgeries for transition. I would have seen [a therapist] regardless. I just have a lot of internal issues with my trans identity that I have to work through.
What kind of internal issues?
I think part of it is that there are straight people, and there are not-straight people. Those are both labels. But [when people] talk about trans people…Yes, there are trans and cis people…but people don’t say that. People say, “There’s a guy,” and “There’s a trans guy”. [When] people do that, I’m being seen as [some “lite” version of a] man.
So is it problematic if I say, “She’s a trans woman.” Should I just address them as a “woman”?
Well, you shouldn’t ever identify someone as trans without their permission. But I feel like if it’s something that’s relevant — If you were talking about me, you wouldn’t say, “My bisexual friend, Remy…” but if it was relevant, [you might say], “My trans friend had an opinion on this,” or something.
So when we’re talking about someone like Laverne Cox, we should say she’s a “Woman” not a “trans Woman”, right?
I think it’s a personal preference.
It’s their personal preference — not ours, right?
Yes, personal preference of the person and not of the cis person.
My default answer for a lot of this stuff is to talk to your Trans friends, because it’s a big community and there are a lot of people and a lot of different opinions.
I don’t like it when people identify me as trans guy unless it’s relevant…I am a bisexual man, but I am a man who is transgender. I feel like [there is] a distinction in a sense, because I am male first, and trans second.
“Trans” is an adjective. It’s an identifier in that sense, and it’s a necessary adjective because my lived experiences are different than a cis man’s and that’s a fact…and that’s something that I need to reconcile because I’m disappointed and upset about the fact that I never got a Bar Mitzvah.
I never had a male childhood…Those are things that I need to reconcile within myself. So if I end up talking about my gender, I tend to leave the “trans” label out unless it’s relevant.
I guess going off of the [topic of] internalized transphobia, one thing that I particularly need to work through is — I mentioned to you that in a 102 days, I’m going to get top surgery. To clarify, [it’s] a surgical procedure.
It’s a full mastectomy, where they remove the breast tissue and fat around the pectoral area and reconstruct your chest slightly so that you have a “male-looking” chest — I use quotation marks around that.
The thing with top surgery is that…unless you have a very small chest, which I do not have — I have a pretty average sized chest — is that it leaves large scars along the bottom of the pectoral muscle.
Those scars do fade overtime. They fade to white. And for a decent amount of guys, they’re not really noticeable. I have a huge problem with them.
I avoided getting top surgery consultation for a while, for multiple reasons…I feel like they will out me involuntarily. I was talking about this a few days ago. In my transition, I strived towards a cis-ideal…which is not feasible.
I will never be cis.
What do you mean by that? What’s “cis-ideal”?
Being exactly like a cisgender man, physically. I will never be that. And I need to accept that but I haven’t yet.
And those scars are an “in your face” reminder of that. A lot of people are proud of their scars and they’re proud of what it means…of what they went through. I haven’t reached that point yet. I’m still developing being proud of that because I am not proud of my trans identity. I’m not ashamed of it…but it’s just a thing. I think it will help me learn to be proud of it.
But right now, I’m not.
Why are you not proud of it?
Because I don’t feel like it’s something worth being proud of.
Because you feel like you shouldn’t have to be?
I don’t know. I understand why some people view it as a point of pride because they view it as a struggle that they overcame.
I feel like a lot of people are proud of it because it’s an identifier…but honestly, sometimes, I view my trans identity as an endocrine disorder and not as an identity.
My IDs say lots of different genders on them.
My drivers license and my social security card are Male. My passport and my health insurance are Female. My birth certificate is Female. I’m working on getting everything changed, but I can’t change my health insurance until I get my top surgery or else they won’t cover it.
Really, they won’t?
Yes, and some insurances require a hysterectomy too.
What’s a hysterectomy?
It’s when they remove your uterus.
Some insurance companies in the United States require sterilization before you can change your gender.
How is that allowed? I’m guessing most people aren’t happy about that.
No, they’re not. Some of their databases only account for cisgender people so — this is a few years ago — certain things have changed with this since the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I’ll give you a very brief synopsis. Basically, before the ACA, it wasn’t considered gender-based discrimination.
Let’s say [that I, a trans man], change my health insurance to reflect Male. I get ovarian cancer. I go to the doctor and say, “I have ovarian cancer. I need this covered.” My insurance company [would say], “Sorry, men don’t have ovaries. We won’t cover it.” With the Affordable Care Act, which expanded protections against gender-based discrimination, that has been curbed.
I spoke on the phone with my own insurance company for 45 minutes to make sure it’s been curbed. I got confirmation in the form of an email from them that if I change my health insurance to Male, and I were to require something like a hysterectomy or an ovariectomy, and if the automated system rejects it on the basis of me being Male, I’m allowed to file an ACA complaint and appeal.
If Trump gets rid of the ACA, who knows what the hell will happen? I have been researching health insurance for trans people since I started coming out, in 2014 or 2015, and specifically in reference to the ACA.
In Canada, up until about 2013 or 2014, the government would not allow you to change your gender mark without being sterilized. Period. If you were a trans man, you had to have a hysterectomy. If you were a trans woman, you had to be castrated.
Can you talk about a bit about the history or the reasoning for why they require this? In our Body Politics class, we discussed the politics behind sterilization.
I don’t know for certain. I have a theory. Do you know what the DSM is?(Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)
It’s the book on diagnostic…
Yes, it’s the book on mental illnesses basically and neurological divergences. It still lists gender dysphoria as a medical condition.
A medical condition…?
Yes, but I actually agree with the wording. I have a nuanced opinion on this. The current DSM is the DSM-5. The DSM-4 lists transgender, specifically — or gender identity disorder it’s called — as a mental illness.
So they changed it in the DSM-5 when that came out a few years ago, I think in 2013 or 2014— which is when a lot of this stuff started changing anyways — to gender dysphoria. [I agree with this] because trans is a unique identity in the sense that it is medicalized. People who decide to transition, do so in a medical way. I take testosterone injections weekly. That’s a medical thing. My testosterone is completely covered by the ACA. It’s free.
In order for that to be a case, I need to have a condition to diagnose me with…so my therapist and my nurse practitioner, who prescribes me my testosterone, diagnoses me with the DSM’s gender dysphoria, in order for me to get my stuff.
I’m okay with that because gender dysphoria is a mental thing. Gender dysphoria is very basically…it’s a complicated thing but, very basically, it’s the phenomenon of when a person’s body does not match up with their gender identity. [It’s] the anxiety and distress and the negative emotions that come from that. It’s the reason that I decided to transition.
One of the major [reasons] of why I decided to transition is that I hated my voice. It was too high. I would listen to myself speak and I would get uncomfortable.
I’m getting top surgery because I can’t look at the upper half of my body. I avoid mirrors. I can’t do it. That is a neurological condition. That is a mental condition, and not in a negative connotation…but it is.
It’s a neurological divergence, so I’m okay with that. In the same way that I’m okay with the fact that when I get my blood work drawn, to check my testosterone levels…my blood is cis, basically.
It’s so weird that we assign these labels even to our blood.
I say it mainly as a joke but it’s true in the sense that if you were to take a vial of my blood, and compare it to that of a cis man, the testosterone levels [would] be the same. If you were to just look at my blood, you would have a difficult time figuring out that I’m trans.
I brought this up in [class] on Wednesday, because [a professor] was talking about engendering body parts and I [said], “Biological sex is on a spectrum too.” But even so, my body is Male. I don’t care what people say.
Because if you try to argue with me that my body is Female, then you have to take all parts of my body and they contradict each other. My blood is cis. My genitals might be trans — Testosterone changes your genitals too. I don’t want to get too much into that, but I am an in-between state in that and its aspects. My voice is pretty cis. My chest is not.
So how are you going to gender my body? As soon as you try to break it down a little bit, the logic starts to fall apart…which is a big argument for not gendering bodies in general.
But yeah, Canada used to make you sterilize yourself in order to change your gender marker. I have a feeling it’s because it was diagnosed as a “mental condition” and the “mentally ill shouldn’t reproduce” [for various reasons]. That’s been changed.
Certain states in the United States still require [sterilization] for your birth certificates. I’m thankfully from Connecticut, which is a very liberal state.
I have a very cute story on how I changed my name. So I changed my name in January of 2017. The way it works in Connecticut — each state has a different law about changing each different piece of identification. But all of them require that you get your name legally changed by your judge before you can change any of your IDs. In Connecticut, you go to what’s called a probate court, which is a local court for a district for one or two towns.
I went to my local probate court and I filled out two forms. I filled out an affidavit, which is basically like, “Hey, I promise I’m not changing my name to avoid taxes or the law. I super swear.”
Then, the second one was the form for Name Change where it’s like, “This is my old name. This is my new name. This is why I need to change it.”
I originally just wrote down “personal [reasons]” on why I need to change it and the clerk at the office said, “[This is] too non-specific.” So I wrote down in the box, “I am trans. I want my name to reflect my gender identity.” I go a few days later on my court date and I walk into the judge’s office. The judge has a lot of discretion in these cases.
If the judge doesn’t feel like you should get your named changed, he can come up with a reason for why you shouldn’t get it.
How do you feel about that?
I find it uncomfortable…
It’s almost like you have to convince them…
Yes! That’s the point of the court date. It’s an opportunity for the judge to ask you questions or concerns they may have.
So what kind of questions or concerns were you asked?
It was actually very interesting. The clerk at the court house was not very nice to me because I went the day after New Year’s. I was probably the first person he probably saw after Christmas and New Year’s and was like, “I don’t want to deal with this.” I was concerned, so I brought my father with me to see the judge because you’re allowed to bring witnesses or people to support you, if they’re members of your family. But people of your family are also allowed to come if they’re dissenters. So when my Dad walked in, the judge didn’t know if he was a dissenter or a supporter.
What’s a dissenter?
Someone who is trying to make a case for why this name change shouldn’t go through. Your parents are allowed to be dissenters.
And so, we walked into the judge’s office. He was this nice old guy. He was sitting behind a desk and he had my papers in front of him. I sat down and he looked at my Dad.
He said, “Mr. Davison, are you here in support of your child?” My Dad said, “Absolutely.” The judge said, “Good.”
Then he looked at me and said, “Do you want to leave here as Remy?” I said, “Yes!” He goes, “I can make that happen.”
He didn’t ask me any questions. He just signed the paper.
Then he told my Dad, “The worst cases that I get in here, are when parents are coming and arguing with their child or with each other about whether or not the name change should go through. I’m so happy that you’re son has a supportive parent.”
That’s really amazing.
It was a very, very cute situation. In Connecticut, every document can be changed with that court order that they mail me with the seal of the judge, including my birth certificate.
My therapist has had to write me a lot of notes…like when I changed my drivers license, I had to have a note from a therapist signing, “I promise this person is Male and will be Male for the foreseeable future.” Same goes for your birth certificate, unless you have a form of ID that already reflects your gender, which I do. So I basically just need to sign under penalty of perjury that I promise I want to change my name, and then they’ll change my birth certificate and my gender marker.
You said you have to get a note from your therapist in order to change your birth certificate and drivers license…so is going to see a therapist a requirement to get top surgery?
It depends, actually. I didn’t need to go to therapy to get testosterone. In some states, you do. Pennsylvania is what’s called an “informed consent” state which means that I’m allowed to get hormone therapy from a clinic like Planned Parenthood. The Western Pennsylvania’s Planned Parenthood doesn’t do it but places like New York and Boston do.
Certain Planned Parenthood clinics do HRT, which is Hormone Replacement Therapy. UPMC’s Children’s Hospital’s Adolescent Medicine Clinic does HRT for people up to [age] 26 and it is in informed consent which means that I did not have to get any notes or diagnosis to get my testosterone. I saw a nurse. She checked me out over the course of two different appointments.
[She] gave me a physical, looked at my blood work, and made sure that [nothing would medically] kill me…Then what she had to do, legally, was sit across from me and read a contract outlining everything that testosterone is going to do to my body and then make me sign a contract saying: “I agree and I am consenting to this procedure.”
That’s what is called informed consent. I basically waive my right to be upset if I don’t like what happens…That’s what a lot of trans people do to avoid therapy. I have a friend who is a trans woman who hates therapy [and] was really happy that Pennsylvania is an informed consent state because she does not want to go to a therapist.
If I want my top surgery to be insured…If I don’t want to pay $7,000 out of pocket for it, I must get a therapist’s note with a diagnosis to prove to my insurance company that it’s a medical necessity.
Is the therapy covered though?
My insurance does cover my therapy. I am in a very lucky position though, because not all insurance companies do that. My insurance company didn’t cover my therapy or my testosterone up until January 1st, when certain new provisions of the ACA took place. The ACA has done a lot for trans people. But yeah, I was paying out of pocket for my testosterone before January 1st.
Do you know why they decided to make these changes?
I’m assuming it’s just in line with the protections the Obama administration was doing for trans students and that sort of stuff that Trump is undoing.
I think they’re just starting to realize that trans issues are human rights issues.
Personally, just as a side note…I know a lot of people are hung up on the concept of sterilization, just in terms of like…
My best friend is a cis man and once we were on a long car drive together over break. I had made a comment to him, about a week or two before, that my mom found out that I might want to get some kind of bottom surgery. She was terrified and didn’t want me to do it. I was complaining to him that I didn’t want to explain to my mom what that entails…It’s so far from the future. It’s such an “if” [that] it doesn’t matter. We were in this car ride and he made a comment, relevant to the conversation. He [said], “I don’t know if there’s certain things that I’m not allowed to ask you.”
I said, “Just try me, and I’ll tell you when to stop.” He said, “I want to know what bottom surgery entails but I don’t want you to feel like I’m viewing you as a zoo animal.” I said, “I‘m comfortable enough with you that I don’t care.” So I spent the car ride explaining it to him. And I’m not going to explain it to you because it takes fucking forever and it’s complicated and not relevant.
The crux of it is that, for trans women and for trans men, you need to be sterilized. You cannot get this surgery without being sterilized.
So the sterilization happens as a natural result of the surgery. It’s not like the government is forcing you to get sterilized unwillingly.
Yes, these are two distinctive kinds of sterilization. The surgery sterilization, like the bottom surgery sterilization, is a byproduct of getting the surgery. It’s something you agree to because you want the surgery more. The thing in Canada and the thing in certain states in the United States — certain states in the United States will not allow you to change your birth certificate without being sterilized. They don’t say “sterilized” but when you say hysterectomy, you mean sterilized…because you can’t give birth without a uterus — that is different. The legality issues of changing your gender marker is a separate thing than wanting surgery and choosing it of your own free will.
I have no qualms about being sterilized. I might have them in the future but I have never in my life ever wanted to push a child out of my body.
When I was little and I thought I had to be a girl…I thought that I had to be a mother…I was terrified.
I would stay up at night saying, “I don’t want to push a child out of my body.” And now I know it’s probably because I was never meant to.
But I have made choices even when I thought — I thought I was a lesbian when I was 13 because I didn’t know that you could be bisexual. But ever since I was 13, I knew I wanted to adopt kids instead of give birth to them. So I have absolutely no qualms. Remove my uterus. Take it away! I don’t want it. The hysterectomy is actually one of the most common medical procedures in the United States.
Under what group of people?
Everyone! Cis women. In terms of the number of operations, hysterectomies are extremely common. That’s not a particular issue for me.
Do you know why it’s so common?
Some women do it when they get older. It’s like a vasectomy for a women.
So this is for taking out your uterus, not your ovaries?
Yeah, an ovariectomy is removing the ovaries. And that’s what I was getting to because…You don’t need to remove your ovaries to get bottom surgery. But if you have ovaries, you need to keep track of them incase they develop cancer or if you get little spots on them or whatever…
If you get bottom surgery and leave an ovary in, that makes things infinitely more complicated. So why would someone leave an ovary in their body? It’s because the ovaries are what produces the estrogen. If I were to go off of testosterone right now — go off of testosterone injections — my body would just start reverting back to what it was before. My testosterone suppresses my natural estrogen and replaces it.
My voice would not [change] back. That’s permanent. Certain other parts of my body would stay the same.
My facial hair would go away. Your fat redistributes on testosterone. It goes away from your hips and towards the middle of your body…that would go back to my hips.
Certain things would revert back. My monthly cycle would come back. I haven’t had a period since December. That would come back with full force.
However, if I were to get an ovariectomy — which means that I no longer naturally produce estrogen — I could never go off testosterone. It is a medical requirement, as if I were a cis man that had been castrated. I don’t like the idea of being medically dependent.
I would die. I would have no hormones in my body.
If I got an ovariectomy and didn’t take testosterone, I would probably die. I don’t like that idea. And I might get more comfortable with it in the future, depending on [how] my needs for myself change, but at this point in my life, keep the ovaries. I don’t want to be medically dependent on [testosterone].
Before we move onto sexuality, I just wanted to ask something. It seems like your parents are very, very supportive.
That is the result of invested effort on my part.
I’m really interested in hearing about that but maybe the best place to start is to first talk about you, yourself, before we get to talking about your parents…any realizations about being bisexual or other things. Let’s talk about your own personal journey first. Maybe chronologically.
When I was 13, I had a dream. I realized I was gay in a dream. I was in a play, when I was 13. It was a…children’s theater play. I had a duet with a male character — I was playing a female character — played by a woman. So we were both ‘girls’. I use quotation marks.
But I had a dream while I was doing this show that I kissed her. I woke up, “AM I GAY?” And slowly over the course of the next few days, I realized I had a huge crush on this girl. I didn’t know what to do…
I have a very open relationship with my parents. I always have. My parents value honesty mostly above everything and they’re very blunt with me.
That’s just the nature of Jewish parents. My mom will tell me I look like a “schlub” if I come downstairs looking like a mess — and so will my grandma if they’re both there. So I wanted to tell them.
After a few months of realizing that this was true, I went up to my parents and told them I was bisexual and they said, “No, you’re not.” They said, “You’re too young to know that.”
I had recently had a falling out with a female friend of mine. They told me that the feelings I was having for women were a manifestation of the fact that I missed my friend.
That pushed me into the closet for three years. I’m sure they meant well in the sense that they honestly thought I was too young…cause my mom lived in Greenwich Village, New York in the 80s. There are lots of gays there. My parents are not homophobic and they never have been — at least, to me.
My dad said that when he was a teenager, he had a lot of shitty homophobic opinions but he got over that. He got over that before I was born.
But a series of events happened between 14 and 16 which kind of pushed me deep into the closet. The first of which, is that one of my friends at the time, told me that bisexuality is a myth…that it was just people looking for attention and that you are either gay or straight.
So I was like, “Well, I thought I was bisexual…but that’s false. I know I’ve had crushes on men before…so my feelings for women must not be true, and I must be straight.”
You believed your friend.
I honestly believed that [bisexuality] was a myth. So I was deep in denial, [for] all of 8th grade. I was 14 years old. I had another big crush on one of my female friends. I used to sit on her lap during class. Both of us turned out to be bisexual, but never of us were out at the time.
That’s pretty funny. Have either of you talked about this since?
We have talked about it a little bit. This is one of my friends from home. But I [thought], “Oh, this is just gals being pals. This is straight as hell.”
I think it’s interesting that around this time, when something like this happens between girls, people are quick to say, “It’s just a girl crush.” When it comes to guys, there is no such thing as a “guy crush” really...
I feel like it’s specifically a term I hear women use. They tell their friends, “You just want to be her. You want to look like her. You want her lifestyle.” It’s easy to believe them.
I honestly believe that’s a patriarchal construct because men are not allowed to express their emotions. If they have emotions for another man, it’s gay. Women are imposed to express emotions which is why they can never show enough emotion to begin.
At least that’s my personal [opinion]. So at 14, I was totally straight and I developed a crush on a “guy”…I use quotation marks again. But I still — in the back of my mind — knew that something was up.
I found, over this past Winter break, old diary entries from 2010 and I read them. I read the entire account of the dream I had because I wrote it down. And I read the hatred I had…for my feelings. I didn’t even realize I had this much internalized homophobia but I was calling it…disgusting.
I was like, “This is unnatural. This is wrong. I can’t be feeling this way for women. I need to suppress this.” I hated it.
Where do you think those negative feelings came from?
I actually wrote an article about this.
So I’m Jewish. I grew up in a Catholic town. I was one of the few Jewish families in this Catholic town. The United States is Christian normative by nature of its society. My town was also very Christian normative. The Torah does not have anything against gay people. In fact, when I was at my Jewish summer camp — I need to shorten this story but basically, Jewish mysticism says that there are 7 levels of Heaven which each level being better than the next. Based on how good of a person you are, you get to a specific level of happiness. Take all of this with an asterisk because Jewish mysticism is one of the most debated things in the religion. I was talking to a very religious woman and someone asked her, “What about the gays? What about gay people? Does Judaism not like them?”
And [the religious woman] said, “Well, technically, according to the Jewish Torah, gay is a sin…but, Jews believe that God designed us to be imperfect so everyone sins. And it’s not my place to tell a gay person that their sin is worse than my sin.
[This] means that if that gay person was a better person than me, they could get to a higher level of Heaven than me because putting love into the world — regardless of what kind of love it is — is still a mitzvah, which is Hebrew for a “good deed”.
But regardless of knowing this, I was surrounded by this Catholic narrative and I internalized it. I internalized a lot of Christian normativity that was not my own to internalize, that had nothing to do with my religion.
Jews don’t have Hell. Full stop. There is no Hell in Judaism. Yet, I believed that I was going to Hell because of all of the narratives surrounding me about gay people going to Hell. I thought that God was punishing me (because I am a religious person). I thought this was a test from God and that I had to suppress my feelings in order to past the test. And I learned that when God tests you, if you pass the test, you will emotionally feel better than before. But I was miserable. I was miserable because I was suppressing this element of myself that was so integral to who I was.
I have two younger sisters. My middle sister is two years younger than me. One day, I went up to her — I was 15 — and I said, “Illyssa? What is it like to be straight?”
I was talking to about it with her and she was like, “I think…you’re bisexual.” We were having a conversation about it — my sister is very blunt, too. She said, “You clearly like women! It’s not a bad thing!”
My entire freshman year, was still repressing this but…it was starting to peak through still and I was still thinking about it a little bit. I used to call it “That Lesbian Problem” cause I still didn’t think I could be bisexual. So I just referred to it as “That Lesbian Thing”. Then I started hearing accounts online of actual bisexual people and I realized that it’s not a myth.
I was a freshman. I met a lesbian who…turned out to not be such a nice person but was helpful in this case. [She] helped me work through some of my feelings. Sophomore year, I was thinking more about it. Sophomore year, I went to a pre-college program at Bard college and I met, for the first time, real-life gay people and real-life bisexual people (besides this one girl from my high school). I told myself…at this point, I knew.
I told myself I was going to come out to my parents after this three week program was over. I came out to my sister right before I left. I said, “I’m going to tell our parents right when I get back.”
I went to this pre-college program really scared and insecure about who I was. I came back, after meeting all these LGBT people, just completely in love with who I was.
I was so proud of it because I realized that I could finally be proud of my bisexual identity.
I came home and I came out to my best friend who said she knew already…and then I came out to my parents.
What was that like?
At this point, for some reason…I don’t know why [this time] it was different but they were like, “Okay! Sounds good.”
They were actually debating whether or not my cousin was a lesbian while I was trying to come out. Side note, I can’t not say this in this interview, I came out to my parents in a Powerpoint presentation.
That’s so interesting. I’ve never heard of anyone doing it that way.
So I originally came out as pansexual and then later come out as bisexual for two reasons. One, because I like the term bisexual better…I just had a lot of negative connotations associated with the whole myth thing. Two, because I like taking the path with least resistance and “bisexual” is easier to explain than pansexual. Bisexual is [liking] two or more genders and pansexual is [liking] all genders.
I’m attracted to all genders. I just prefer the term bisexual. But pansexual is a little bit [vague to explain]…
I didn’t make an actual digital Powerpoint presentation since I couldn’t project it or anything but I drew out slides for my parents.
“This is pansexual. This is the pansexual flag. This is what pansexual means.” I prepared a presentation for my parents. They were like, “Okay.”
Then they told me to go do my AP homework.
What do you think changed since the first time? Why did they react more positively this time around?
I don’t know. I think it was a combination of me being older and I had dropped a few hints leading up to this. My parents had already kind of figured it out because I had mentioned that I was maybe…thinking about liking women? It was not a shock to them…I think is the point.
What were those conversations like when you would casually drop hints to your parents about liking women?
They were scary.
What were some of the thoughts going through your head?
In a weird sense…I never believed my parents were going to reject me.
What were you expecting their reaction to be?
I never expected them to reject me.
The first time around, you mean?
Because of the strong foundation I have in my relationship with my parents. My parents and I have talked about this because I was still scared to tell them certain things — always — about trans things, about hormones, about coming out as bisexual…I’m scared of being rejected, generally…I think.
With my parents — My parents have always, always emphasized that they love us unconditionally. I have never encountered a deal breaker with my parents. Ever. I can’t think of one. And so I knew in the back of my mind, that they weren’t going to reject me. But the fear of the potential of rejection [came] from the Christian normative narrative [telling me], “This is awful. This is sinful. This is wrong.”
And [it came] from my own internalized [fears] that…once I say this out loud to my parents, it’s real. I’m admitting it. I can’t go back. And that’s a why I didn’t come out for a year after I knew, when I was 15, because I was like, “Once I come out, it’s real. And what if I end up being straight in the end?” People will think that I’m doing this for attention and all that stuff.
So what was the breaking point for you where you finally felt like you needed to be straightforward with your parents? When did you realize you just had to do it?
When I went to Bard college and I met all of those gay people. Because I went in dropping hints like, “Oh, some people at school think I’m gay or something like that.” I really was not able to admit it. But when other people came up to me and said, “Yeah, I’m a lesbian. I’m bisexual. I’m this. I’m that. I’m pansexual. I’m whatever…”
They were so proud of [their identities]. I realized that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I have a big problem with that…with certain Trans things. There are not a lot of Trans people…in public and in the media.
I was so scared to go on hormones…I had decided that I wanted to go on hormones, and within three or four months, I did it. It was very short. It was a very quick transition.
My mom was like, “What changed?” And I [told her], “I’ve always wanted to transition. I was just scared because I didn’t have any marker for what that was going to be.”
It was uncharted territory and it was terrifying.
So how did you end up finding out more about the process? How did you find those markers in the end?
The way I operate…I just kind of ponder on things. It slowly builds, slowly builds, and slowly builds until there’s a breaking point and in the sense where — I make a lot of snap decisions. I subconsciously stew on things for a long time and one day…I wake up, and it’s like something clicked inside me. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s like all of these little amalgamations of things that have been stewing in my subconscious and one day, I wake up and I go, “I can’t live like this anymore.”
This is a whole other story that somewhat relates to me and why I stayed inside the closet as trans for so long…I was in an abusive relationship in high school. [This] kept me in the closet as trans for a while because I was dating a lesbian and if I came out as a man, I was afraid she was going to leave me. It was my first gay relationship.
It was my first gay relationship and it was awful because it was abusive. I learned that what God wanted me to do, at least from my perspective was — When I tried to suppress my sexuality, I was miserable. And I realized that the test was not to suppress it.
The test was to love myself in a world that wanted me to hate myself. I accepted that when I came out. Figuring that out was another reason that I came out, because I realized that passing the test was accepting myself.
The only way I could accept myself was by coming out. I can’t keep secrets from my parents. It sits with me in a moral way that makes me uncomfortable.
I know that’s not everyone. But that’s me. My parents need to know most things about me.
But I was miserable in this relationship with this woman and I thought that God was punishing me for being gay. I soon realized that it wasn’t. This was just an abusive relationship. But that kind of pattern of stewing, stewing, stewing and breaking…is exactly had me leave.
For months, it was stewing in my subconsciousness that she was bad for me. And I woke up — I still remember the date. On September 2nd, 2014, I woke up and I said, “I cannot live like this anymore.”
I broke up with her.
But I need to reach that breaking point…I need so much push, that it just breaks the wall. I can’t do things on a whim. It has to build like that. It has to just amass.
So yeah, I came out to my parents at 16. They were totally fine with it. My grandparents still don’t know…that I’m…gay.
Really? Your parents have never told them?
I have three grandparents. My sabba (which is ‘grandfather’ in Hebrew), my dad’s father, died when I was in 7th grade. He died not knowing anything about me, in this aspect…which is really sad because…he didn’t die.
He was murdered. That’s another complicated story. He was assaulted in a parking lot and he hit his head on the concrete. He just didn’t wake up.
That has taught my safta (meaning ‘grandmother’ in Hebrew) a lot about how life is kind of short. So she is…I don’t know if this is just her personality or if this is also a result of that but she bends over backwards to make sure she’s accepting because, [first of all], she wants to make sure that she always has a relationship with us for however long she has left. Two, she has always been a liberal person and this kind of stuff doesn’t necessarily bother her…but she knows everything.
So she knows about how you identify out of all the grandparents?
Yes, I never told my safta that I was bisexual…It never particularly bothered me that my grandparents didn’t know that I was bisexual because I was never in a relationship that I wanted to tell them about…but it bothered me that they didn’t know that I was trans.
I was “non-binary” for two years. I use quotation marks on that one, too…
Okay so…I had not known that I was trans since I was little but I had trans feelings since I was little. I remember, I always wanted to be one of the boys. I just identified more with men. But the thing was, as I started to go through puberty, people started imposing more female gender roles on me and it made me uncomfortable.
My mom used to try and make me wear make-up and I would wipe it off. I tried to wear frilly, pastel colors and I just…
I just was really butch. I was always really butch. Female gender things always made me really uncomfortable and I didn’t know why. I thought make-up made people look beautiful on other people but I would put it on my face and I would disassociate.
I would put it on my face and look in the mirror and go, “I don’t recognize this person. This is not me in the mirror.” And I thought — I waited and I wished…because when I was little, I didn’t feel like a little girl.
I waited and wished to go through puberty and I sat there. I [would be] sitting there at night, awake…thinking, “When I go through puberty, I’ll finally feel like a woman. That’s what makes people feel like a woman.”
Then I went through puberty and I still didn’t feel like a woman. I was like, “…What’s going on?”
I just assumed that [none of the] girls, felt like girls. But then I talked to real girls, and they strongly identified with being women. And I was like, “…I don’t.”
I’ve never strongly identified with being a woman.
But I was so scared, for two reasons, to start identifying as male. The first was that I was surrounded by a lot of toxic people that viewed men as the “devil”…that viewed men as misogynists — like all of them as misogynists — as abusers, as rapists…as these awful, awful people. I was afraid that they would lump me in that category if I came out as male.
So I came out as non-binary because I knew I wasn’t a woman. I just slowly went along this spectrum. I was like, “I’m gender-fluid! Just kidding, I’m like vaguely transmasculine! Just kidding, I’m probably a trans [man]. No, I am a trans [man].”
I wasn’t at a place in my life at high school where I could have came out as a trans man. I’ve accepted that now…Not only because I was dating a lesbian [and] I didn’t want her to leave me, but also because I wasn’t in a supportive enough environment socially that would have accepted that.
So when did you finally come out as trans? Was it at CMU?
I came to CMU with a new name and as [non-binary]. I wanted no one to know my birth name. I was going to start fresh as “Ren” and that was what was going to happen and everybody did it.
And as soon as I got that validation on my gender that I didn’t get, at school, I realized that I didn’t want to be validated in this gender. So by December of Freshman year, I knew I was probably a guy but like I said, things have to stew and amass and the breaking point happened in April of Freshman year.
I was like, “No. I am a man. I need to accept all of the baggage that comes with being a man.” So I came out to my parents twice, [about being] trans, too. I feel like a lot of times, they need a second try or something.
When I was in junior year of high school, I told my mom that I didn’t think I was a girl. Her response was — She doesn’t remember this, but I will never forget this:
“I will not call you my son. I will never call you my son.”
She was very uncomfortable with the concept of transgender because she fundamentally did not understand it and my mom has a hard time fully accepting things that she cannot cognitively understand. Over the next [few] years, [from Junior year in high school to my Freshman year in college], I moved further in my own social transition while [extensively] educating [my parents about this topic].
I know a lot of trans people that would not put in the effort to educate their parents, would not put in the effort to have a strong relationship with their parents — I was determined to not let this break my relationship with my parents.
I didn’t care about how many repetitive conversations in the car I was going to have with them. I kept discerning like, “I am not your daughter.”
How would they react? What happened?
My dad was easier about it than my mom. My mom told me, up until as recently as the beginning of this year, that she felt like she had lost a daughter. And I tried to tell her that she was gaining a son instead of losing a daughter but she…
This is another thing that I learned through therapy. She needed time to mourn. I didn’t like that, but I needed to accept it. My mom needed time to get used to it.
And me being at college and doing this was actually really helpful because it gave my mom time alone with my dad, without me there, to ask questions and to acclimate to the situation without me being there…without me constantly present and harping on her about it.
My parents don’t like it when I forward them internet resources. They want me to talk to them like a person, so I did. I kept repeating, over and over, “This is what trans is. This is what it means.”
My mom would ask me lots of somewhat insensitive questions like, “So if you date a woman, does that mean she’s a lesbian?”
“No, it means that she’s straight because I’m a man…” All this kind of stuff repeated over and over. I invested a ton of effort and I’m happy for it. I told my parents in April of last year that I was a man and that I wanted them to start calling me their son. It took another slight adjustment but now my parents use my pronouns. They refer to me as their son.
I think the biggest jump was…they loved my birth name.
My dad was going to be called my birth name if he was born a woman. He decided when he was little that if he had a daughter, the first daughter that he was going to name, would have my birth name. It was really hard for me to give that up.
I was never attached to the name “Ren”, honestly. I was desperate to not go by my birth name in college so I looked up — Jews name their kids after dead relatives, which means my initials stayed the same when I changed my name. I’m named after two dead relatives that start with “R” and “E”.
My middle name is Esa. So I kept the “R” from my birth name [when] I changed it to “Ren”.
I just went on the Internet and googled, “Gender Neutral R Names,” and picked “Ren” cause it sounded the coolest. I was not attached to it.
So I told my parents, “Rename me. I want you to rename me. That is your right as a parent.” As soon as they picked “Remy” and they were okay with it, they started using it immediately because they didn’t like the name “Ren”.
But I think the fact that I gave them that control over picking my new first and middle name…they use it. They have never [messed] up once, that I’ve heard, since they changed it. They have probably screwed up when I’m not around but I don’t really care. When they talk on the phone with me, when they talk to me…and now they’re educating their friends.
It is night and day from two years ago…and that’s in a large part, my effort, but it’s also a large part, their willingness, to not lose me. That’s what my mom told me.
I don’t see my mom cry very often. When I had this conversation with my mom, she was crying. It was last summer…before I came back [to campus], because I worked at Pre-College over the summer. It was last summer in May and I was talking to my mom…
My mom sat down with me. We were talking about something, related to gender, and then she said, “It took me a while, but I realized that this is who you are…and if I don’t accept that, I’m going to lose you and I can’t lose you.”
She’s told [my aunt], “You’ve got to start calling him this,” and she told her parents — my grandparents — who still don’t get it. They’re very conservative and they’re very of their own generation. My grandfather is turning 90 in December. They don’t get it. My mom told them I’m on hormones. My mom told them I’m a guy. They don’t remember. Their memory is kind of going. Every time I call them, my grandma asks if I have a cold because my voice is dropping…and every time, I keep saying, “No, I don’t have a cold.”
Finally, she caught on because she called my mom and said, “Is [birth name] doing something relating to her voice?” And my mom said, “Yes. He’s on testosterone. I told you. His voice is dropping.” And then, I think she finally got it…
I have a very cute story about my safta. My safta totally gets it. My safta calls me “Remy”. My safta calls me “he”.
My dad wanted to tell his mom, himself. Both of my parents wanted to tell their parents, themselves, which is fine by me because it a less of a language barrier in that sense.
When you say language barrier what do you mean?
Terminology barrier is a better [phrase to use].
Where are they from?
My family has been in the United States since the 1850s. My grandparents speak Yiddish but it’s not their first language. They’re bilingual. My grandma is second or third generation American.
So my dad told my safta and the next time [she called], she said, “Put him on the phone.” I started talking to her and she goes, “Hello my beautiful grandson.”
I will probably never forget that.
It was her 80th birthday over Spring break. She was born on the Ides of March (March 15th.) I went home for her birthday because it was the first weekend of Spring break. She has less of a filter than my mom. She doesn’t have a filter. Period.
My dad keeps telling her, “You can’t just ask Remy exclusively questions about being trans in front of everybody!” And so she tries to stop a little bit but over Winter break, she asked me — she reads a book a day.
She has an iPad and she gets digital books. She blows through them. She loves to read. She used to be a teacher. She asked me in December if I had any books I could recommend her about what “trans” means. I didn’t, but I said if I found any, I would tell her. But she found some on her own and during her birthday, she went up and asked me, “I know I’m not supposed to ask you this…but talk to me. Come here.”
I brought her over to the couch. She goes, “How did you know you were trans?”
I start talking to her, explaining a short version of what I explained to you of how I never felt like a woman…about how I realized this is who I am.
She said, “I’m so glad you were able to figure that out.”
She also asked me why I decided to start taking hormones and I told her. And she said, “I’m so glad that we have the medical technology for you to be able to do this.” So she’s totally on board.
She’s beautiful. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation with her.
What about your siblings?
I have two younger sisters. One is two years and one is four years younger than me so I’m the oldest. They are totally chill.
They are bored by me coming out at this point because I’ve done it, like, four times. I mentioned it to them and they were like, ‘Great. I’ll change your name in my phone.’
That was it. The funniest thing was that my youngest sister, Maddie — when I’m home for Winter break, I tend to run a lot of errands for my mom, including picking my sisters up from school.
When I picked my sister up from school over Winter break, she told all her friends that her cool older brother was coming in his car. So they’re totally, totally fine.
I have a lot of religious extended family that does not know and will not know…and I’ve accepted that.
You’re fine with that?
Yes, because I don’t know them very well. Everyone [in my immediate family] knows, and that’s what I wanted. I don’t care if my mom’s cousins know because they wouldn’t accept me anyways. They’re [extremely] orthodox Jews and they will not understand.
So you talked a bit about your mom and how she felt distressed for a period of time and had to go through this stage of mourning. Did your dad also have that kind of period?
If he did, he didn’t vocalize it.
And if he did, it was shorter than my mother’s. It took some mental adjustment for him but he adjusted quicker than my mother did. He was the one who was trying to help her through this mourning process mostly.
Did you ever come out to a friend and it didn’t go very well?
Didn’t go very well? No…I can’t think of [a time but]…
What are you thinking about?
I have often come out because I can’t resist making a [joke] and this is not an uncommon phenomenon. I’ve heard this from many LGBT people that sometimes they can’t resist making a really good joke and that’s how they come out. I came out to my pre-college roommate in 2014 because I was walking down the street in Providence, Rhode Island with her going to Starbucks. A comes buy on a skateboard and he says, “Come to Zumiez. Visit me!” Another guy comes by on a skateboard and says, “Don’t listen to him! He’s gay!” And I shout down the street at them, “So am I!”
That’s so funny, and that’s the first time that your friend knew?
Yes! I had met her 24 hours before.
And I have a friend who is in the closet and has multiple times, texted me saying that he really had to bite his tongue to avoid coming out for the first time for a joke.
…I’m trying to think if there was a time where it didn’t go over well…Aside from the fact that I told my friend I was bisexual a long, long time ago, and she said that bisexuality is a myth…I can’t really think of a [time].
Have you talked to her since?
Yeah, she turned out to be bisexual, ironically!
So she thought it was a myth and then she turned out to be bisexual. Have you had any conversations about that?
Not really. We don’t really see each other anymore.
Well, last year, was a bit of a struggle…trying to get everyone in the studio to use my pronouns.
Do you want to talk a bit about that?
Yeah sure. What was also night and day was Freshman Spring to Sophomore Fall because no one used my pronouns even when they switched to “he”. I get how using “they” can be slightly complicated but when they switched to “he”, no one did it.
And this is also a phenomenon that I’ve also been told that is not unique to me…As soon as you go on hormones, people are like, “Oh…they’re serious.” They start doing things more. They pay more attention to it.
I started hormones on August 17th before Sophomore Year started…and it was night and day. I spoke to all of my professors before [the semester] and I said, “You have to call me [by my male pronouns].”
But all the people started calling me “he” once I switched over to “Remy”. Everyone started calling me “he” and I was shocked because I was on academic probation at the beginning of this year.
So I met with [this professor], because that’s what you’re supposed to do, over the summer. I was sobbing in [his] office.
I was talking about how no one was using my pronouns and how I felt fundamentally disrespected.
My parents were there. My parents were there with me and I was sitting there sobbing. I cannot work with people who don’t respect me as a human being.
[The professor] said that doesn’t mean they don’t respect you as a human being…I said, “When you don’t respect my gender, you are treating me fundamentally different than everyone else.”
I couldn’t get words out because I was crying so hard. He was largely pragmatic about the whole thing…He was being very diplomatic.
I said something like, “I want the professors to start using my pronouns because I think it’ll force the students to do it too.”
And [the professor] started debating with me on the semantics of the word, ‘force’, in that sentence. There was another point in the conversation where [he] mentioned to me that my gender had become a topic of conversation in the staff break room.
I started putting my pronoun sign on my desk. Apparently, a staff member made a comment, ‘I wonder what pronouns it’ll be this week...’
What…? How is that okay…?
My parents were in the room and my dad was pissed off. My mom didn’t say much. My dad is very good at negotiating and he was very diplomatic about the thing. He wasn’t yelling but he was like, “That’s…not okay.”
That’s not okay at all. That kind of behavior shouldn’t be tolerated in any workplace or environment.
I was shocked on two levels…One, that they made that comment and two, that they all knew I used alternative pronouns and still called me “she”. But for some reason, as soon as the Fall started, everything switched. Maybe it was because I was literally sobbing in [his] office over the summer.
I had [these three professors] in the Fall. In the beginning of the semester, I met with [one] beforehand — because I get disability accommodations from the university so I have to have meetings anyways with my professors at the beginning of the semester. During that, I was like, “I’m a boy. Call me [by my male pronouns].”
[One professor] was like, “Sure.” [The other one], who had me in the Spring, said, “Thank you for letting me know.” Then he made a comment about how I seemed happier now that I was telling people or something. Yeah, it was night and day. I have no idea what happened. I wish I knew.
I feel like [those professors] are very accepting people.
You know how [this one professor] sometimes calls the guys, “sir” or something? He started calling me “sir” and I [loved it].
So you didn’t explain more about the studio environment though and how that was an issue for you.
I was really spiteful because I’m a bit petty. I started making lists.
Things More Acceptable in Studio Than Using My Pronouns: Racing chairs, playing loud Taylor Swift music, hiding behind doors and screaming at people as they come in to prank them…
I was really bad. I used to text these things to my friends and be like, “Look at all these things that are more acceptable to do in studio than calling me [by my male pronouns!]” I was bitter. I was really pissed. I remember, [one friend], was really good about my pronouns because she lived on my floor Freshman year. She used to talk to people for me.
They would be like, “But it’s really hard. I don’t understand how to do it. How do you remember how to do it? You’re so good at it.” And she would say, “You invest effort to practice.”
But I’ve never heard someone misgender me to my face this year. I was scared to correct people until I was on testosterone, also. I was very scared to correct people…because correcting someone on your pronouns…I don’t know why it’s terrifying. But it’s absolutely terrifying. Best case scenario, they do it. Worst case scenario, you’ve just been completely dehumanized a a person. It’s a confrontation and I hate confrontations.
It’s confrontational in the sense that you’re telling someone that they’re doing something wrong. You’re accusing them of doing something wrong…and that’s so difficult. So I just stopped and I just took it.
I didn’t want to deal with the confrontation. I’m so grateful that it changed — again, I don’t know why…but I’m grateful it did.