The Value of Stories

I’ve always had an interest in history. One of the greatest joys, and heartaches I’ve found over the last six months is discovering queer and trans history.

The stories are empowering and give me life. The fortitude and endurance that has been required to move our community to this point is astounding to me. It gives me hope, and it supports me when I’m feeling down.

I want to talk about a profoundly moving moment I had a few weeks ago. Even though it’s not based on a real story, the relevance of it spoke to me. I was watching the new Tales of the City, and we got to a certain episode set in the sixties.

The episode centers around Compton’s Cafeteria, and what happened that fateful night. What struck me, and it struck me hard. Was to see this dramatization of these deep rooted fears, and to see presented, and then validated, those deep deep, to the core of my being fears around being an out trans woman.

I’m not that old, but I still grew up thinking that the best I could hope for, was to not hope for anything at all. To be able to see, just a sliver of the faceless amorphous terror that still haunts me, gave me an opportunity to deal with it. To see it for what it was, I knew it was fear, but it was the fear of an isolated little girl living in a world that didn’t make any sense, forced into a life that didn’t fit. All of the years of running and hiding away, trying to build a life that I could call my own. It all made sense why I’d felt that incredible pressure, why I’d felt like I didn’t belong in the world.

So it was also so powerful to see that turned on its head, and see that there was still a future and that I’m part of something bigger then myself, and to feel it, and to feel connected to this whole history, as rough and bloody and awful as it might be. I belong in this world, and that I’m made of some pretty tough stuff.

On those days that I just wanted to scream ‘why don’t you love me world! Why don’t you want me!’ I understand now, Not in a thinking rational way, I’ve had that for awhile. On an emotional level, to the core of my being there’s now a sliver of light because I know that I’m not alone in feeling that, and if I’m not alone then there’s love in this world, and if there’s love and acceptance somewhere, then I need to keep that light for the next, and the next, and the next. Until we all feel welcome.

In and among the whole sobbing mess that I’d made of myself, and I cried for a solid hour. The pain and anger, and then the realization, and then the laughter and joy. All at once at times. Just letting that all pour out of me.

I walked down my hall and looked in the mirror. In the mirror looking back at me was this hysterical, sobbing, snotty woman.

It was the first time I’d looked in the mirror and seen a woman. Known that the woman I was looking at was me. Not a woman that needed to be looked through a lens, or squinted to see, not a woman with conditions or explanations. I saw myself, the woman I always knew that I was looking back to me. The messy crying disaster of a woman that I am. Smiling like an idiot back at myself.

and I laughed, and I felt changed in that moment. I felt a wholeness of spirit that I hadn’t felt before. I felt good, and felt good about myself. I’ve had other fulfilling moments before that, but that was so powerful. To just feel at peace with myself and what I am.

I am a woman, and I’m going to be okay.

 

The Pain of Loneliness and Isolation

Coming out publicly has involved a lot of painful and difficult times. One of the aspects I hadn’t really considered, was how lonely I would still feel.

Before I came out to anyone, it was my burden alone, I couldn’t expect anything from anyone, because no one else knew. Which was fine, I understood that.

As I’ve come out to more people, the weight doesn’t seem to get any lighter. Sure, there is plenty of support offered, but no one knows what it feels like. I’ve talked about it before, but coming out has never felt good to me, it has always scared me, and left me feeling vulnerable and isolated afterwards. Yet, the straight and cis people in my life assume that it must feel like a burden has been lifted.

To take a tangent, I think it’s because they think it’s the same as coming clean on a big lie. That it would feel like the weight of the lie was lifted now that the truth is out. Yet though I know I had to lie to stay in the closet, I never felt like a liar. I felt like someone trying to survive. I didn’t feel the relief on honesty, I felt the fear of vulnerability.

I work a lot, and I work with a group of white, cis, straight people. Most of whom come from good families, and have had good opportunities in life. I grew up poor, I’ve been the only one to worry about myself as long a I can remember. I moved out on my own as soon as I could. I put myself through school and have had to make a lot of sacrifices to catch up to most of my peers.

So I couldn’t even really start dealing with the whole being gay and trans thing until I’d found a modicum of safety and security. Pulling yourself out of poverty is a lot easier when the world thinks you’re a straight white man. Doesn’t do a lot of good to your psyche or sense of self worth.

So most of my struggles and experiences are alien to the people around me. I’ve got seriously reduced vision in my right eye because of a treatable eye disease that could have been diagnosed sooner had I had the money to see an optometrist. Sure, $150 to see a doctor that might be able to save an eye sounds like a small amount, but there were a lot of those small things that when added up I couldn’t afford. By the time the eye was bad enough I needed to deal with it, I’d gotten through school and had a job with benefits.

No matter how far I go in life my past will always be there, and who I am and what I am will always be a present part of my life. When you regularly spend your time with people that can’t understand any part of your life, and can’t empathise with your experiences it makes you feel so very lonely.

I work with and I know a lot of good people, caring people. Yet I feel I need to isolate myself at times because I know they can’t handle my story, they can’t understand it. I know it won’t do any good to stress them out, so I go on in silence with my own pain.

People think that inclusion means creating an environment where no one experiences hate or discrimination. Yet they don’t realise that the isolation eats away at people just as easily. It makes certain spaces significantly less appealing because you know you have the responsibility and burden of holding the weight of expectation and bias and all the other negative emotions and ideas that people carry around with them. It’s hard to walk into a room and know that you are the single point of connection between everyone else’s discomfort.

It’s exhausting and lonely to be isolated like that, yet without the first person to endure that, there can never be a second to take up the weight. Eventually you hope there will be others to help you carry it all and hopefully get rid of it for good.

Retelling History

I’ve talked before about coming out to my mother. it was a bad experience. You can read about it here if you’d like.

Coming out to my mother Part 1

There’s two parts, enjoy if you wish. What I’m going to talk about today is the interesting way in which we perceive our own histories.

Growing up I didn’t have a lot to rely on, rose tinted glasses are a very ingrained tradition in my family. So if I wanted to keep a firm grasp on reality, I had to stay keenly aware of my memories. As I couldn’t rely on those around me to remember stories correctly.

So I was rather amazed when I spoke to my mother over Christmas and told her that I had thrown out an ornament my brother got my wife and I for Christmas the year we were married. Frankly, I didn’t think a Mr & Mrs ornament had any place on my tree.

(We’d considered giving it away but the only other wedding we attended that year had also been a gay wedding. It was a nice ornament, just not appropriate for us.)

My mum, in her infinite wisdom told me that she had bought the ornament. “Why?” I asked, “you knew I was trans.” She didn’t remember when I’d told her. The bitter tears of rage had evaporated from her memory. I was married two years ago, I came out to my mother five years ago. She’d managed to lose the timing of an event, and likely the negative feelings to a more convenient place and time of her choosing.

Which is frankly. the worst example of that behavior I’ve had to endure. We all lose track of events at times, no one remembers everything that happens to them. But to forget when I came out to you, especially considering how poorly she took it, and how much that still hurts me today, was another painful stab in my side.

I don’t wish I could forget like she did. Because there’s power in remembrance. I just wish my mother, and my family had the strength to remember along side me.

The subtlety of trans unacceptance

My Wife and I are in the process of becoming foster parents. This process hit a rather unfortunate roadblock the other day. My wife started her own business a month ago, it’s a busy time, she is working more then ever. She’s enjoying her work and its been a really positive experience.

The social worker doing our assessment tried to explain it wasn’t entirely because of my transition that she wasn’t ready to accept our application. She was great about it, I can tell she cares, and I’m curious how much of her misgivings are from her supervisor. I can not help but think that if my wife was my husband, they would forgive a busy father. That I am seen as too unstable because of my transition, I need the support of a ‘real’ mother for those kids.

I’m pretty devastated, my wife and I aren’t in a position to have kids of our own obviously, and we’re not sure about adoption yet, but fostering was a way for us to do some good, we have a huge empty house, we both have had rough childhoods and want to try and give some warmth and safety to a kid that really needs it. I know we’ll be good at it.

I’ve talked about how I don’t hate being trans, how its a defining part of me and has shaped me into the person I am. I wouldn’t change it if I could. I do so wish that it didn’t make my life so difficult. I find myself feeling tired, not physically tired, but emotionally. Having to justify transness, and explain it, and put it into a box it doesn’t fit in is exhausting.

I am a person, I am a human being, I am a woman who happens to be trans. I want nothing more then the dignity afforded others. I wish only to be treated like a person with a name that explains who I am, not who my parents thought I was before I was born. I wish that my sum total experiences were cherished and celebrated for what they are not as a contradiction of what is ‘normal’ (which just means straight and cisgender.) I long for a world in which transness is an experience that can be shared with others to enrich them, not to justify why others are ‘coerced’ into being uncomfortable.

Every culture is enriched by the variety of experiences and stories that are allowed to enliven it. Let us culturally accept that transness does not fit into any other context then itself and give it the room and space to breathe life into the lives of those who don’t experience it. Let trans people be people, let them give you strength as their experiences have given them, let their stories give your life greater meaning, let their struggles help you understand your own. We are not monsters, we are not to be feared, we are not looking to upset any natural order, we are but people whose place in history has long been blotted out, and whose stories have not been allowed to pass to others. That no more makes us new, or frightening then any other group who have existed outside of ‘proper society.’

Trans stories and lives matter, we have a role in society, we have a place in the hearts of those around us. We have a right to do good around us. Just let us.

On Slurs

I’ll put a little note in here that this is going to delve into some unpleasant terms for trans people and if you’re not comfortable with that please don’t continue reading.

I don’t often experience something that I wished hadn’t happened. I was outside with a group of people and one of them, somewhat out of nowhere asked one of the other guys “Is fucking a trap gay?”

The person asking was my brother.

I’m pretty tough skinned. I try not to let the little stuff bother me. That wasn’t little stuff. That’s a big one. That a word could throw me into an emotional fit is new. I didn’t used to feel enough to get upset. So when I started shaking and yelling and almost crying I was entirely unprepared. It felt like I’d been stabbed it cut so quickly into and hurt. physically hurt.

Everyone makes a mistake and says things to someone they shouldn’t but lobbing a slur can usually be avoided. You choose to use those words knowing how dangerous they are.

Those words have consequences. My relationship with my brother has been shaken entirely by a single sentence. I don’t want him around anymore. I worry where he learned that from. I now have to try and hold back and not extend that to the rest of my family. Because in my experience people don’t hate in a vacuum, but I can’t just assume it wasn’t him being an idiot.

I wish this journey was easier sometimes. I wish my brother hadn’t of said that. But mostly I wish that I didn’t always have to be the bigger person.

Words hurt kids, don’t think they don’t.

 

“Nobody Wants to be Trans”

Someone said this to me yesterday. I won’t name names, I’m a real lady like that. But it is something that I know I struggle with, and I think it’s a sentiment that is pretty common. Nobody wants to be trans. it comes from a simple enough place. Being trans can be tough, given the choice people would choose the easier path.

I wouldn’t be the same person I am now if I wasn’t trans. I can’t imagine a path my life could have taken if I wasn’t trans that would have been similar. Gender identity isn’t the core of your being, but it’s not many layers up. It subtly and un-subtly touches every part of your life. So to say that I would rather not be trans… well I can’t agree with that.

Even professionally I’m good at what I do. I don’t think I’d be nearly as good as I am if I weren’t trans. There’s a whole depth of character and experience that I can draw on to round out my practice.

I’ve noticed it most acutely when coming out to people that when thinking about trans people, non trans folk can’t seem to wrap their mind around. In my case they focus on how my wife feels or has dealt with ti, because they can imagine her perspective better then mine. It’s understandable, but I’m also not an alien. I’m not some non-human entity. I’ve just got a difference that sets me apart from a lot of other people.

Which is why I think people think being trans is bad, because it’s different, its separate. Often times its lonely, its uncomfortable. But for me at least it has harboured great virtues. I have incredible patience because I’ve had to. I have a desire for safety and security that has pushed me further then ambition ever could. I have great inner strength and harmony because I’ve had to deal with my demons.

Being trans has forced me to know myself. That is a gift, I live my life with peace, most of the time, because I have had to spend the time unpacking my baggage, understanding each element of it. Then put it back together to be a functioning human being.

So would I rather not be trans? No, would I rather being trans be easier? hell yes.

 

 

I Don’t Hate my Penis

I read an article this morning about a movie apparently making it’s rounds in the film festival circuit. I’m not usually one to pay much attention to them, but it seemed pertinent based on the title so I read the article. Now, I haven’t seen the movie, it sounds kind of gross I don’t know if I will. I wanted to talk about a particular obsession that people seem to have with genitalia.

Here’s the article for those interested, the movie is called Girl. You can find it yourself.

https://www.intomore.com/culture/netflixs-girl-is-another-example-of-trans-trauma-porn-and-should-be-avoided-at-all-costs

Now, I can by no means portray myself as the end all be all of what defines Transness. I can’t, and I don’t want to. I can talk about my experience. Which kind of boils down to this. I don’t hate my penis. I don’t really love it, it’s just kind of there. It doesn’t offend me, and we have a working relationship. Would I be happier with a vagina? Am I sad that I don’t have one? Not really. I have gotten to a point of acceptance with my genitals, but I didn’t start at hatred, or even really dislike.

So I find it interesting how much cis people are fascinated with genitals. You can look at the lengths parents go to differentiate the genders of their babies, a two month old does not have a developed gender identity parents, the bow in their hair is for you. If it makes you feel better that’s fine, but it doesn’t matter.

When dealing with older children on towards adults the preoccupation with the world being a place where everyone’s genitals are clearly and easily identified has always been strange to me. I only know this because as soon as someone knows your trans then it becomes a point of interest.

It shows in movies like this. As we start to see more “trans” stories for lack of a better word popping up in popular culture, and I’m specifically talking about those written by non-trans folks the preoccupation with genitalia is foundational.

Which brings me back to the title. I don’t hate my penis. I have a far worse opinion of my voice, or my facial hair then of my penis. Nobody sees my penis, it’s just there. I’m upset about not being able to be pregnant far more then having a penis bothers me. Because fundamentally genitals are parts of us that procreate children. I’m sad that I can’t carry a child, I’m not mad that I have a penis. Let me explain.

Being trans comes with complicated emotions, much like being cis, but I’m going to focus on the trans thing right now. I am remorseful that I didn’t get the chance to grow up the person I wanted to be. I grew up not in control of who I was, because I knew who I was on the inside differed too far from the norm to feel safe and accepted enough to be who I was.

So most of my milestones are warped by this, in the pictures of me growing up, I see a little boy growing into a young man. That makes me sad. That fills me with remorse, knowing that the life and person I wanted to be was not the life I lived.

In none of those pictures do I see someone with a penis, I just see me. subtly terrified and trying to survive. Just trying to make it through long enough to someday be myself.

I wore a suit at my wedding, my wife knew I was trans but it wasn’t broadly known, and I love my wife. I wanted to make that commitment to her. I wanted to be able to publicly declare my love for the woman of my dreams. I didn’t know what path my transition would take, It would be nearly a year later before I’d meet with an endocrinologist to start hormone therapy, which was in and of itself a surprise even as it happened.

I don’t look at my wedding pictures, I don’t have them in my office, I don’t have them in my house. It was an incredible day, and an incredible moment in my life. and I hate seeing pictures of it.

And my penis was no where to be seen.

Being trans is often about what you lose, because in so many unfortunate ways you lose yourself. When you talk about childhood development you talk about milestones, and everyone needs to reach these milestones before you can move on. So when you go through some of them wrong, you continue on, because you’re a functioning person. Yet there’s a haunting that echoes through your life. All of your memories, your relationships, your achievements before you transition are touched by the fact you weren’t authentically yourself.

These are what make me sad. These are the things that I’ve lost. As I live my life, and I’m still working towards a place of safety and comfort with who I am. I continue to progress and mark milestones. and I am saddened that I didn’t get to share who I was with everyone as I go.

Gender dysphoria is complicated, much like people are. Some days I’m fine and I live my life, and other times I feel the stubble on my face and I’m sickened by it. It’s a complex and difficult feeling to understand and deal with. Often times its quiet, and takes prompting to roar into life, though that might just be from the years of repression.

There are many things that make me trans, and there are many things that make me upset, but also give me great strength and wisdom. I have never hated my penis though, it’s part of me for better or worse. I might not like what it represents or what its meant to my life. but I’m a complicated person I don’t have a single focal point that defines my experience.

If you want to tell a story about a trans person, talk about the inner conflict, the mixed emotions, the fight to stay sane as the world forces you into a box you don’t fit into. The doubt and the fear. The life defining, and changing decisions. There are plenty of interesting perspectives to show and fascinating stories to be told about the experiences and lives of trans people. To focus on such a small facet, and frankly a not particularly interesting one is shallow and mundane and best, and harmful at worst.

To anyone who might read this and is in a creative position to tell stories. Don’t tell the story of a cis person trying to understand being trans. Show the awakening and joys and sorrows and the highs and lows of that journey. Your storytelling will be better and you’ll give voice to a human experience that is not commonly shared.