Nine Things to Know If You (or Someone You Care About) Are Struggling With Gender Identity, or “These are the things I wish I could go back and tell 20-year-old me.”

For a big portion of the trans population, our teens and early twenties are when the first really big struggles with questions about our gender identity start to happen. Sure, most of us spend a lot of our childhood being vaguely (or not so vaguely) aware of something being “wrong” or different”, but puberty and sexual development seem to have a way of throwing a pretty harsh light on those feelings. It can be pretty lonely and confusing time, and it’s easy to feel completely lost and overwhelmed by the situation. After all, it’s not as though we’re likely to have a bunch of other friends struggling with these same sorts of issues to lean on, and I don’t think there are many other issues that shake the core of your identity quite like questioning your gender. Often, we’re terrified to admit these feelings to even ONE person (it took me until I was 20 to actually talk to someone about it). Back in those days (the early 2000s), internet information about being transgender/transsexual was pretty scant and stereotyped, and I remember not relating to a ton of it, which made me feel even more lost and confused.

These days, of course, trans people of all stripes are making their voices heard on the web. You have only to look at my extensive (yet not even remotely exhaustive) blogroll to get a sense of that. I wrote a while back about the importance of trans success stories, and why each of our voices is so important. But, as I approach my 1 year mark on HRT, I began to think about the sorts of things that would have been helpful to hear from someone when i was 20 and struggling to understand the mess of thoughts about my gender. Furthermore, I’ve come to realize that supporting a person struggling with gender dysphoria can also be a challenge, particularly if gender issues are something that are very new to you. It’s very easy to feel lost for words when trying to support trans people, especially if you aren’t trans yourself.  So, in light of all that I came up with nine simple, but important thoughts that I believe are important for anyone (young or not-so-young) to hear if they’re dealing with gender dysphoria:

1. Feeling dysphoric about your gender does not mean you’re a sexual deviant or a pervert. Trans people often have to endure being labeled deviants by the transphobic public because of the uninformed (and flat-out WRONG) belief that cross-gender/gender-dysphoric feelings stem from “immoral” sexual desires. Nothing could be further from the truth- gender dysphoria stems from a mismatch between your physical body and your brain’s expectations. I think if most cis-folks took a minute to think about how they’d feel if they woke up one day in a body of the other sex (I’m guessing they’d be pretty damn freaked out), they’d understand the immensely stressful feelings we struggle with every day. A fair amount of good science also exists to support this brain/body mismatch. Sadly, the media has a tendency to portray us in a very unflattering light and pornography and trash television have only retrenched these horribly misguided stereotypes. But it’s important to understand that gender dysphoria is a very real medical/psychological issue! As a corollary, experiencing gender dysphoria does not mean you’re just “gay and confused” or anything else about your sexual orientation. Sexual orientation and gender identity are completely separate concepts, and trans people are gay, straight, and everything in between (and only you can decide where you fall on that spectrum).

2. Everyone’s pathway to understanding their gender identity is different. This one was perhaps one of the hardest things for me, personally. There’s an awful lot of literature floating around that says things like “you’re only a trans woman if you’ve felt X, Y and Z.” These are misleading and bordering on cruel. We’ weren’t all super-feminine children, nor are we all feminine now. Not all of us experience our dysphoria as a specific dislike for our genitals. The unifying experience is the discomfort with the sex we were assigned at birth…the rest is as unique as we are. Your path is your own, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

3. Everyone’s pathway to and through transition is different. This is a follow-on from #2, really. Some people are ready to start pursuing transition as soon as they’ve accepted that they’re trans. Some people aren’t. Some people live part-time or full-time in their preferred gender before starting medical transition. Some people are on hormones for a year or more before they venture out presenting as their preferred gender for the first time. Some people push through their social transition quickly, and others take a bit longer road. Some people choose to have surgery, and some do not. ALL of these things are normal and acceptable! Just because your path and progress differ from someone elses doesn’t make your trans experience or gender identity less legitimate.

4. Gender dysphoria has deeper effects on your emotional health than you realize. Living in a body that feels wrong is exhausting. You’ve been dealing with those feelings for a long time, so it’s easy to chalk them up to just “normal” life for you. But, there’s a good chance that your dysphoria is slowly and insidiously eating away at your mental stability. There’s anxiety associated with trying to “fit” or “pass” in a gender that doesn’t feel natural. There’s the self-esteem hit you might be taking from looking at a body that feels wrong, or maybe even ugly to you. And worst of all, there’s a constant, gnawing depression stemming from the stress and discomfort that dysphoria brings while your brain is being washed with the wrong hormones. Your subconscious is expending lots of energy dealing with these things, and that’s a recipe for some serious problems with your emotional stability Bringing the mind and body into alignment through transition does WONDERS for mental health, and you’ll be astounded by how much the anxiety and depression drops off as transition progresses. (That being said, transition is NOT a magic cure for all emotion problems, and there’s a decent chance that you’ll still have underlying issues to work through once the gender issues are taken care of.)

5. You are probably more attractive than you think. This is was one of my single largest mental roadblocks to transition. The image you see in the mirror every day conflicts with your own internal conception of what you SHOULD look like…that’s enough to screw with ANYONE’S self-esteem! Add to that the likelihood that you’re focusing on the traits that make your face/body feel too masculine/feminine for your brain-sex, and you’ve got a recipe for some pretty harsh judgements about your appearance. Give yourself permission to explore, to find out what the preferred gender version of your face and body might look like. And even more so, give yourself permission to feel attractive. You probably are!

6. People who truly love and care about you will support you. Yes, there’s a risk in sharing your gender identity with people. It’s terrifying, and when you’re looking at those first few conversations, it feels like you’re risking everything! People might be shocked at first, or need a little time to process the situation. But if you come armed with information and resources, and you’re genuinely reaching out to someone with something this personal and important, chances are- if they’re a person who loves and cares about you- that they’ll become a supporter. And if you don’t have any friends you feel this way about, it’s time to make some. You’re going to need them over the course of transition. Admittedly, family (especially parents) can be a much more complex situation, and those don’t always go quite as smoothly. But, if you’ve chosen your friends well, they’ll stand by you during your journey. And if they don’t, well, they weren’t worth having around anyway. I’m constantly impressed by just how accepting the people in my life have been of my transition.

7. It’s really lonely in the closet. When you’re closeted about your gender identity, you’re hiding part of yourself from those around you. You’re putting up a false front so that you can survive in the world, hiding your true self deep inside. While this keeps us safe, it also means we’re essentially always alone- we’re never sharing all of our real selves with others. Embracing your gender identity and coming out helps you be more present in your relationships, both friendly and romantic, by letting go of the gap we tend to maintain between our true selves and the false front identities we construct to inhabit our assigned genders. It can actually be pretty overwhelming at first if you aren’t prepared for it! I didn’t realize just how much I kept other at a distance until I started transition.

8. Transition happens a lot faster than you think it will (once you get started). Standing at the opening of the metaphorical tunnel that is transition, it often looks daunting to the point of being overwhelming. It feels like it’s going to take FOREVER, and that you’re going to be stuck in that terrifying middle ground for longer than you can bear. It’s not true. If you set measurable goals and stick with them, and focus on making progress, you will flabbergasted at how quickly you’ll be standing on the other side going “Holy shit, did that really just happen?!”. Yes, some of those months of the process are going to suck, and you’re going to feel like it’s TAKING SO LONG, but things pick up speed quickly, and each step drives the next until one day you realize that there aren’t any more steps, and all that’s left is living the amazing, genuine life you’ve built for yourself.

9. It’s okay if you aren’t ready to transition (or if you’re never ready). Transition is a BIG step! There are lots of things you need to have in place. It’s financially burdensome, emotionally taxing, and it has far-reaching consequences for all kinds of scary real-world stuff like jobs, housing, and more. It can take a while (sometimes a long while) to have all things you feel you need lined up. That’s okay! You’re ready when YOU’RE ready. And for some people, transition just isn’t the right thing for them. That’s okay, too. You should still seek out counseling and do whatever it is you can to mitigate your dysphoria, but it certainly doesn’t invalidate the dysphoria you’re struggling with. Whatever it is that works for you is right FOR YOU!
As I mentioned, this list isn’t just for trans people- it’s for anyone who considers themselves an ally to the trans community. Pre-transition folks are often those who are in most need of love and support, and these nine things might be some of the most important things you can share with them as they try to find their path.

Advertisements

Terminology, Labels, Descriptors, Boxes and Prisons Made of Words, or “Why descriptive terms are like underwear, and how Julia Serano made me change mine.”

Ahhh, terminology. Amongst queer folks, it’s a Pandora’s Box of potentially ugly arguments. For the transgender/genderqueer/gender-variant/gender-non-conforming (pick whichever umbrella term is your favorite of the day), some days it feels less like a Pandora’s Box, and more like big glass of nitroglycerin (you know, even breath wrong and it blows up in your face). One of the most interesting (and problematic) issues with the terminology that surrounding non-cis people is that, frankly, no one seems to be able to agree on what the terms actually mean. Hell, beyond the fact that people can debate all day about what exactly it means to be “genderqueer”, “gender-fluid”, or “transgender”, we really haven’t settled (as a community) on what exactly one is referring to with terms like “sex” and “gender”! (Here’s a hint, it’s a WHOLE LOT more complicated than “gender is between your ears, and sex is between your legs). At this juncture, I’m even entirely sure I could give succinct definitions (based upon my own beliefs) of what exactly “sex” and “gender” mean to me. (Though that discussion would definitely make an excellent essay for another time). In any case, there are quite literally many dozens of glossaries of sex-and-gender-related terms all over the internet, written by everything from big national groups like The National Center for Transgender Equality and GLAAD, to smaller advocacy sites like TransWhat and TSRoadMap, to individual bloggers like Natalie Reed and Erin Houdini. Not shockingly, even amongst just those six, there’s pretty significant variation as to how the various terms are defined.

“So, TNF,” you might say, “how on earth are you going to talk about terminology and labels without an consensus views on what the terms even mean?” Well, random hypothetical person I made up, I’m going to circumvent that by not trying to assign a universal definition to ANY terminology. After all, I’m really just a random girl on the internet who decided to sit down at her laptop one day and start writing…it’s not really my place to start assigning concrete meaning to terms. Instead, I’m going to talk about the importance (and to some extend the non-importance) of labels, identities and terminology, and how the term I use to describe myself have evolved along with my personal understanding of myself as a person.

So, let me start off by saying what labels and terms SHOULDN’T be. They definitely shouldn’t be rigid boxes that place firm constraints on who and what people are. Once we start putting firm walls up around labels and identities, you’re also certainly going to fuck it up and screw somebody over. Human variation (from height, hair, and eye color to sex and sexual orientation) is impressively gradient. You can trust me on this, I’m a scientist! They also absolutely shouldn’t be used to injure, marginalize, exclude, or oppress others. Once we start projecting our own absolute definitions of various terminology onto others, it’s very easy to slide into “us vs them” types of thinking. After all, once we start drawing circles around who counts as “us,” pretty much everyone else becomes “them.” This sort of behavior seems to become particularly problematic among the least privileged of minorities. Trans people have some pretty heated arguments about who exactly is or isn’t trans, and whether or not someone is “trans enough” (I’ve heard this referred to as the “tranny-er than thou” argument.) I’ve certainly see similar behavior in lesbian circles as well (and even had some of it directed at me). I think it comes having to expend so much energy scratching out a little space in the world that we then feel compelled to defend that tiny space with the ferocity of a polar bear on PCP. Unfortunately, most of the rage is often misdirected at another marginalized group, instead of the actual source of oppression. The end result is a lot of energy spent (pretty much pointless) in-fighting instead of working to actually improve our effing situation. Of course, our individuals thoughts are important in the overall conversation of ideas that evolve (and create) our terminology. But, in grand scheme of things, how we decide a term is defined applies pretty much only to us as individuals.

Instead of “labels” on rigid metaphorical containers, I think it’s much more useful (and healthy) to think of the terminology as a descriptor, as succinct, convenient summaries. That is…instead of committing to our preferred terms as a closely-held identity, we ought to use think of them as “things we use to describe ourselves.” Very few of us think of “brown-haired person” or “blued eyed person” or “average height person” as important, intrinsic personal identities…our terms for our gender, sex, sexual orientation, etc shouldn’t be much different. If metaphors work for you (I love metaphors), instead of thinking of our terminology as something tattooed onto us -indelible, permanent, and unalterable things etched onto us…we should think of them like underwear- important, but only useful while it’s comfortable and easy to change once it starts to bind us up.

There are three big improvements in thinking about terms this way. First, it helps us accept the idea that the descriptor doesn’t have to fit perfectly, that sometimes we’re just hunting for a best-fit descriptor. As an example: when I’m dealing with lots of straight folks who aren’t terribly well acquainted with queer culture, I tend to describe myself as a lesbian. This is far from a perfect descriptor, but “queer and attracted to female-identified and female-leaning people regardless of assigned sex, and evolving somewhere in the poorly defined area between sexual and demisexual” is a mouthful. I actually just prefer the term “queer”, but that just invites irritating questions in that kind of company, and I’m not often looking to give a “Queer 101” lesson in random conversation. So, sometimes, lesbian works just fine. But because I see lesbian (and queer) as a descriptive term instead of a label on a bin, I don’t have any inherent need to give much thought to policing who or who isn’t “really” lesbian or queer.

Secondly, it helps us be more open to evolution, both in our descriptions of ourselves, and our personal understanding of our terminology. After all, if we think of our current preferred term as a clear label with firm boundaries, we’re going to find it a lot harder to change labels, even if our understanding of ourselves has changed. It might even prevent us from seeking a deeper understanding of our identity out of fear of finding that a label we’re heavily invested in no longer applies to us. However, if we view our terms as simply short convenient summaries of our current general position, it becomes much easier to swap out those terms when they’re no longer feeling accurate. And if we’re not committed to an unyielding definition of a particular term, it’s possible that how we look at that term can evolve through experience, research, and conversation. Perhaps a book, an interview, a talk, a personal experience (or a blog post!) presents a new way of looking at the terms we’re currently adopted (or maybe even previously adopted, or maybe even have never adopted but still think about). I think we’re much more likely to allow that experience to change your mind if you’re open the malleability of descriptive terminology.

Finally, it frees us from policing the behavior and identities of ourselves and others. When we’re invested in a rigid identity labels, we become incredibly conscious of any violations of those definitions. We judge and criticize others for not fitting exactly into our notions of what is “transsexual”, “transgender”, “queer”, or even “female”. Even worse, we restrict our behavior to fit within that box, to become someone we might not really be for the sake for fitting neatly into the square we (or others) have drawn. I find that notion particularly tragic for trans folks, as we’ve often literally risked everything- including our lives- to live genuinely, only to cram ourselves into yet another imperfect box. Letting go of that rigid commitment frees us to accept the broad variation in others, to be less concerned about how other behave- and most importantly- to just be our damn selves without compromise or contrition.

Like so many other trans people, I spent many years meandering amongst different labels and descriptive terms for myself, and oscillating between accepting and rejecting the idea of giving a label at all. I don’t think I even knew what a transsexual was until I got access to the Internet when i was 16 (I’m in my 30s, okay?). Even then, I rejected that label for myself. (Back then, internet information about “how to know if you are transsexual” was pretty awful). I think my first identity description was something vaguely mumbled about “being kinda like a girl who looks like a boy” when I came out a girlfriend at 20. I tried on a lot of different labels in my early explorations of my gender identity, including “pangender”, “third gender”, and (in a few moments of real self-hate) “cisgender pervert who is making this all up”. I proudly wore the term “genderqueer” for a few years, mostly because I was flatly refusing to consider anything else because I was convinced I’d be a very ugly monster of a girl if I transitioned. It certainly sounded better than “male assigned at birth who knows she’s really a girl but is fucking terrified of transition so she’s currently elected not to pursue it.” The first time I went out in public presenting as female pretty much tossed all of that in the trash, and I began to refer to myself as transgender pretty quickly there after. (I find this kinda funny to reflect on, because I definitely have pictures from those early days, and OH GODS am I embarrassed of how I looked!). I was on the road to physical transition a year or so later.

Through all of transition, I was pretty adamant about my preference for the term “transgender”, and my rejection of term “transsexual”. Years of exposure to stereotypes and horrible media cliche had soured me on the word “transsexual.” It sounded lurid, provocative, almost pornographic to my ears. It reminded me of the generally pretty disgusting portrayals of trans people in pornography. It felt like a reminder of all the ways people misinterpret the reasons for transition as being based upon prurient desire and deviant sexual behavior. I felt like using it to describe myself to other would immediate put in THEIR minds all of those awful media stereotypes pushed into the public mind by the likes of Jerry Springer. In essence, I felt like the rest of the world had sullied the word transsexual to a degree where it was unsalvageable. I knew pretty early on that large number other people viewed the term “transgender” as an umbrella for all people of non-cis gender identities, but I put those out of my mind. I had little arguments here and there about how I felt that “transgender” shouldn’t be an umbrella term, how it should be reserved for those who at least socially transition, and that we should adopt something like “genderqueer” as a blanket term for non-cisgender people. I even admitted, first to myself and then to others, that I pretty well fit the “classic” notion of a what a transsexual person is. So, I stuck firmly to “transgender” and “trans” as my descriptors.

And then, while writing a different (as yet unpublished) piece about the politics of gender labels, I came across this brilliant blog post from Julia Serano. I’ll admit, Julia’s the sort of writing I’m predisposed to be being influenced by, and her book “Whipping Girl” had been fundamental to my coming to understand myself as a trans woman. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to suddenly and succinctly have my views on the word “transsexual” turned completely on their head. She writes:

    “A final objection to the word “transsexual” has to do with the presence of the word “sex” within it. There is a popular misconception that trans people transition for sexual reasons (e.g., to prey on innocent straight folks, to fulfill some bizarre sexual fantasy, etc.), and many trans folks seem to fear that the word transsexual (because of the word “sex”) enables those assumptions. One can see the de-sexualization of transsexuality in the growing use of the phrase “gender confirmation surgery” to replace “sex reassignment surgery.” I think it also plays a role in why many physically-transitioned folks prefer transgender to transsexual. It’s as if the words “gender/transgender” simply sound more polite and respectable than the words “sex/transsexual.””

Immediately after reading that, I kinda felt like I had been kicked in the head; I was reeling. She had hit on pretty much exactly the sorts of feels I had about term. (She also takes down a number of other objections I had in other parts of the article…you really should go read it). It’s one thing to read something that helps you evolve your understanding of topic…it’s quite another to suddenly have that understanding completely called into question. She continues:

    “While many trans people use “gender” as shorthand for gender identity, in these other areas the word is more commonly used to refer to gender expression or roles (i.e., masculinity, femininity, androgyny). This confusion leads many people to presume that transsexuals transition in order to become gender-conforming or because we uncritically want to perpetuate sexist gender roles, and so on. This is not the case, at least not for me and most transsexuals I’ve spoken with. I experimented with and expressed my femininity plenty when I was male-bodied. For me, transitioning was first and foremost about my physical sex, not gender expression. Being male-bodied felt wrong to me and being female-bodied feels right.” [emphasis mine]

Well, fuck me. Game, set, match for Julia on this one. Dumbfounded is a pretty accurate description of how I felt afterwards…how had I completely missed such a simple idea until now? It honestly took me a few days to process this new set of thoughts…to roll it around in my brain and see if how well I could deal with the sudden shift in view…to see if it really stuck. And, despite feeling a little dizzy from the metaphorical head blow, it really did stick with me. It seems like a such a small bit of insight, but it dramatically altered my views of a word that I previously harboured downright revulsion towards. (There’s the importance of evolution I talked about earlier.)  So, while I’m still not 100% comfortable with the “baggage” that comes along with calling myself transsexual, I’m marching forward with it anyway. I’m “taking it back” as the kids say.
I’m a transsexual woman, and I’m proud to say so.

#NotYourTransStereotype, or “Kat Hacé writes beautifully on the perceptions of trans people.” (Reblog)

#notyourtransstereotype | Papier Haché.

Kat Haché is a recent addition to my list of favorite trans writers in the blogosphere these days. Her writing is brilliant, poignant and insightful. Plus, she’s also a grad student and a bit of a nerd, which pretty much put her stuff right the sweet spot here. I’m a little disappointed in myself that this is the first time I’ve reblogged her!

Her most recent (as of my writing today) is an absolutely perfect take down of so many of the perceptions and preoccupations the world has of trans people. This bit particularly hit home for me:

“I am not something to be ashamed of.  I am not the butt of your jokes.  I am beautiful, capable, intelligent, and not mentally deranged.  I do not look like a freak or exist to be gawked at, regardless of my attire.”

As per my goal of getting people to read lots of the brilliant stuff penned by the numerous talented trans writers now making their voices heard on the Net, I’m not going to say much other than the piece brought tears to my eyes, and that you REALLY should go read it. 🙂 Scoot!

 

5 Things You Should Stop Doing To Your Post-Transition Trans Friends, or “Some things your trans friends might be too polite to ask you to stop doing.”

So, here I am falling into another terrible blogger cliche, and using the age-old internet crutch: the list article. There are all kinds of wonderful lists about things you shouldn’t say to trans people. Like this one from Matt Kailey at Tranifesto, and this one from Justin Cascio at One in Six Trans Men. But those are general, all purpose, “these are the things that make you look like a total asshole” lists…this is an area that I don’t think has been covered very much. While the medical part of transition can go on for years and years (depending on hormones, surgical choices, etc), there comes a point relatively quickly where the rest of transition is essentially complete. For me, that point really hit when my name change occurred. I was already living full-time at that point, and it really marked the point where the bulk of the “journey” portion of transition was over. When that point hits, it’s time to think about how you approach certain conversational topics with your trans friend(s), as the reality of the situation is often rather different than it as a few months (or a year or two) before.For those of you who have been awesome enough to stick by a trans friend through transition, or who met a new friend during an early stage of transition, the evolution of conversation can be difficult once they reach what I tend to call “post-transition”. Sometimes things that really were supportive and helpful early on start to feel a little overwrought or repetitive as time goes on.  So, with that in mind, here are 5 things you should definitely stop doing to your post-transition trans friends:

1. Stop introducing them as, or referring to them as your “trans*” friend. I know…when it’s early in transition, and we’re either not feeling terribly confident about our appearance or having difficulty “blending in”, it can feel necessary to give people a heads-up to avoid potential awkwardness. It’s still not exactly a great thing to do to even then, but I’ll give it a bit of a pass. But seriously, let go once things are settled down! I know it can feel like you’re embracing their identity and demonstrating your support by talking about (or introducing) them as your “totally awesome trans* friend,” but it’s kinda like introducing someone as your “totally awesome circumcised friend.” You’re sharing private information about our genitals to a stranger.  Not everyone in the world needs to know that we’re trans, and it really should be our decision when and how we disclose it.

2. Stop asking about “how things are going with the whole [transition/hormone/etc] thing” every time you see us. Again, this is one of those things that I know you probably feel is being really supportive. But we reach a point where we get tired of talking about transition-related stuff every time we see friends. It starts to feel like it’s biggest thing our friends see about us (which I’m sure it actually isn’t, but still). Once someone is living full-time and on hormones, there’s usually not a ton of day-to-day (or even month-to- month) news. Do you really want to hear “well, I think my breasts grew like a millimeter or two, and I have like 3% less body hair” every time we talk?

3. Stop telling us how brave you think we are for transitioning every time you see us. Honestly, it’d be nice if people would give this up after the initial “coming out” conversation. Once again, I KNOW this meant to convey support, but I’ll be perfectly honest…I don’t generally think of myself as brave. I think of myself as doing what I had to do to survive, and I’ve had other trans people echo this sentiment. I understand that from the outside, you might see it as a very brave act. I think it’s a perfectly fine (and often encouraging) sentiment to express right after someone comes out. But when it happens half a dozen (or more) times, it starts to feel like (for me at least) like I’m battling something like cancer. In any case, it’s definitely not something you need to declare every time you see us.

4. Stop commenting about “how far we’ve come along.” And definitely stop giving them a serious appraising look every time you see them. This is especially the case if you’re saying things like “Gosh, you look just like a real girl!” I know that personally, this makes me feel like I’m being examined and scrutinized, which is absolutely panic-inducing. Plus, it has a subtle hint to it that you previously thought they looked badly (or at least worse than they do now). It’s much better to let us point out the changes we’re excited about (if there are any) than to suggest that you were examining them looking for the changes that might have occurred.

5. Stop asking us what the “next step” is in our transition. This is one of those things that I think people say in order to demonstrate that they’re interested in this big thing going on in our lives. But for a lot of us, once the metaphorical dust has settled (i.e. we’re living full-time, our names are changed, etc), it’s just kind of…life. We might not be taking any more “steps” at all, or any other steps might be a long way off. In either case, it can make us feel a bit like “crikey, isn’t this enough?”. The early stages of social and medical transition are a whirlwind of change and process, and once we get through, we’re often burned out on thinking/talking about the process itself. Again, let US broach this subject if there is, indeed, a next step coming up for us.

So you’re saying “Shit, I’m so used to talking about the gender/transition stuff…now what do I talk about?” If you have a brain fart about what else to say/do in place of the above, try one of the following:

1. Tell them they look amazing (without qualifiers). By this I mean not “You look amazing for someone born a man!” or “You look so good for a trans woman!” and so on. Just give a sincere, unqualified compliment (i.e. “Wow, you look fantastic!” or “Gosh, your hair is gorgeous!”). It’s a nice little boost to our confidence without reminders that you’re thinking about our gender identity.

2. Ask them about something new or exciting in their lives not related to transition. Did your friend start a new job recently? Meet a new partner? Get a new cat? Finish a degree? Take a Hawaiian vacation? Take up the art of blind-folded flower arranging? They’re your friend, so hopefully you know about SOMETHING in their lives other than the fact that they’ve been going through transition. Everyone loves the chance to gush about the new thing they’re excited about, and it’s a reminder that you see them as a whole person.

3. Give them a genuine, unhesitating gesture of affection. Hugs are good, if you’re the hugging sort. Gentle shoulder touch, friendly punch-in-the-arm, air kisses, or intricate secret-society handshake are also options if they’re the sort of thing you and your friend are comfortable with. I definitely don’t advocate UNWANTED affection of any kind (seriously, they’re your friend…you should know what kinds of friendly affection they find acceptable/unacceptable). The genuine, unhesitating part is important! Even the best, most accepting of allies/friends can get a little weird/uncomfortable about how physical interactions with their trans friends work post-transition, and we can definitely sense that hesitation (or at least I can). Unhesitating affection signals a degree of acceptance that isn’t always easy to express through words.

Final note: This is not the sort of list that is meant to AT ALL belittle or insult the allies of trans people, so please don’t take it the wrong way and send me hate mail. Allies deserve a bajillion thank-yous for standing by us, and there’s zero implication here that doing any of these five things makes you a bad person…it’s just an opportunity to point out some things that can help make better allies (and friends).

Toronto Story About Transgender Locker Room Harasser is a Hoax, or “How a Toronto Star journalist fails at integrity (and journalism).”

Toronto newspaper pushes trans hoax, claims no duty to fact check | The Transadvocate.

So, over the weekend, the Toronto Star’s Ethics columnist published a response to a email from a “senior woman” claiming she was harassed by a “a “man” claiming to be transgender, who had not yet begun physical treatments” (their quotes not mine) while using the locker room at her local YMCA. This columnist then provided what was, by most accounts, a very trans-friendly and open-minded response, going so far as to point out that “transgender women, regardless of their status regarding surgical intervention, have the absolute right to use the women’s change room.”
I read this piece over the weekend in my usual perusal of the headlines for possible commentary, was shocked to hear about the initial claim, but generally pleased with how the writer handled with question.

However, the talented Cristan Williams over at TransAdvocate decided to investigate further and actually called all of the Toronto area YMCAs to see if such an incident had actually occurred. In news that comes a no shock to pretty much anyone…none of them had any idea what she was talking about! Upon contacting the columnist, he responded that it was not his responsibility to verify the accounts he’s given and essentially shirked all responsibility for fact-checking his piece.

Here’s the issue with that notion. While I understand that what he’s writing is functionally an advice column, the piece pretty specifically brings up a VERY sensitive issue, which is cis people’s fear of being harassed by trans or “trans-posing” people in locker rooms and bathrooms. It’s not as though the letter was asking for advice in how to deal with a boss who’s stealing, or a spouse who’s unfaithful…this is a story that the potential to do real harm to the trans community. One of the largest arguments made against allowing trans people to use public restrooms and locker rooms of their identified genders is precisely the fear that this hoax of a story hits on and propagates. It’s ammo for the right-wingers to curtail our basic human rights, and he had an absolute responsibility to do at least a basic fact check of the circumstances before letting such a tale go to press in a major newspaper. Failing the author’s responsibility to fact check, the editor also had a responsibility to ensure all i’s had been dotted before allowing such a potentially inflammatory yarn make it to print.

I also happened to notice that while the story’s headline at least manages to properly refer to the alleged harasser (and apparently non-existent) harasser proper as a “transgender woman”, the URL very definitely says “transgender man”. It’s a microaggression, but still definitely another black mark against the Star in this situation.

I’d like to be able to give the Toronto Star and this columnist the benefit of the doubt on this, but given the way all stories involving trans people are sensationalized for readership throughout the media, I’m finding that difficult. Toronto Star, you owe us a correction, and an apology.

CNN Writer Taken to Task for Transphobia, or “I like reblogging with alliteration. Also, Parker Molloy is awesome.”

CNN Features Massively Transphobic Article, I Write the Author | Park That Car.

So, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, you’re probably aware that AB1266 is pretty much the biggest news story about trans people in 2013. But, just in case you ARE one of under-igneous dwellers, it’s the bill signed in California in July that grants wide-reaching protection to transgender K-12 students, including access to bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams of their identified gender. (Somehow, I managed to completely miss blogging about it…SHAME on me!)

Not shockingly, the bill has been extraordinarily controversial, and it’s brought out some of the most vile and disgusting transphobia in the media that I’ve seen in quite some time. And of course, it’s gotten it’s very own religious-right-driven appeal referendum petition. Since the law went into effect on January 1, there’s been a resurgence of hate-and-misinformation filled op-eds through out the mainstream media. Richard Lucas at CNN penned this doozy piece of garbage, and it caught the attention of the brilliant Parker Marie Molloy from Park That Car, who absolutely took him to task for every single lie and piece of misinformation he spouted. Her piece is one of the best counterpoints to the BS about the “dangers” of trans protections that I’ve seen yet, and it’s definitely worth a read (and a share, if you’re feeling share-y!). And of course, feel free to vent your irritations at CNN for publishing this kind hateful screed.

On Stealth in the Trans Community, or “How I accidently slipped into invisiblity, nearly lost myself, and came out wiser for it.”

The concept of stealth is oft-debated and fairly controversial topic within the trans community. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, the general connotation is the idea of living one’s life without disclosing or acknowledging their pre-transition life. In the most classic sense of the term, it generally refers to a transwoman who- after GCS- does everything possible to erase evidence that she had ever been male-assigned and never discloses it again, often asking family to lie/conceal their pre-transition life, and/or otherwise completely cutting off from those who had known them before transition. As the trans community has evolved, the notions of just what exactly is and is not “stealth” have become far grayer. Can a non-op transwoman go stealth? Is it stealth if you deny your trans status to everyone but your romantic partner? What about simply blending in and not explicitly mentioning one’s trans status to casual acquaintances? Perhaps most importantly, given how trans people are treated in society, is going stealth really such a bad thing? I previously discussed the problem of disclosure to one’s sexual partners, but this issue is far thornier, and my views have definitely evolved as I’ve moved through my own transition.

Defining what exactly “IS stealth” is complicated, and the breadth of opinion within the community appears to be fairly wide. For me, I tend to put the dividing line at “active deception”…that is, you venture into “living stealth” when you’re starting to actively lie. Again, I know there’s some gray area here, after all, most would argue that an lie of omission is still a lie. But, to me, I don’t feel that we have any requirement to disclose pretty much anything about ourselves (and I mean ANY of us, cis or trans) to complete strangers or casual acquaintances. Quite simply, everyone is entitled to keep private what they feel is personal, private information.  The wonderful folks over at TransAdvocate did quite a fantastic series on stealth over the summer that hit on a lot of my general feelings on the matter, and this piece from Cristan Williams hits the nail right on the head. She writes:

Not telling the grocery sacker that you’re trans is not stealth. Trying to get your parents to lie to your new boyfriend is being stealth. Not telling every co-worker in the building that you’re trans is not being stealth. Not telling your best friend is being stealth.

There are tend to be generally two major camps of opinion regarding the acceptability of going stealth: those who believe it’s a completely reasonable thing to do given the current climate of transphobia, and those who hold that stealth is a betrayal of the queer (particularly trans) community. For those who hold to the acceptability of stealth, one of the primary arguments is often that being trans is mostly a medical problem, and once that problem (one’s incongruent assigned-at-birth sex) is corrected, there’s no longer any need to identify or come out as trans. Other simply argue that if you have the ability to do so (owing to one’s attractiveness, ability obtain GCS, etc), then why should you? One the other side, there are many who believe that slipping into a stealth life deprives the trans community of much needed visibility. After all, many of the large gains in LGB acceptance are due to the visibility and personal relationships that LGB folks have developed, and this has been born out in numerous polls. Additionally, some argue that the trans community is often the only support available for trans people- especially early on their transition, and that the voices of those who have successfully transitioned are sorely needed as examples and role-models for those just starting out, and therefore to “turn your back” on the community that supported you is unacceptable. Of course, the arguments on both sides of this issue go considerably further, but that’s pretty much the gist of it.

For me, I spent much of the early part of my transition firmly in the “stealth is not okay” camp. I’m definitely not at all ashamed of being a trans woman, and I feel that being visible and vocal IS the best way for us to make progress for our teeny-tiny majority. Of course, it’s also an easy thing to say when almost everyone around you has known you before and through your transition. I was lucky enough to have very supportive friends who stuck with me, so I didn’t really encounter the choice to not disclose my trans status. Even new people in the early days who only knew me in a female presentation were always aware that I’m trans right off the bat. I’m not going to say that I ran around in public wearing a giant “HEY EVERYBODY, I’M TRANSGENDER” sign, but as I’ve mentioned before…I don’t think not telling every single stranger has anything to do with stealth (after all, no one tells every stranger in the street about what their genitals look like!).

As it turns out, the chance to get a fresh start can give you quite a shift in perspective. When I left my full-time career job to return to University for my PhD, I suddenly found myself in an environment where nobody knew anything about me. A few of the faculty were aware, as I hadn’t yet finished changing my name, but other than that I was just some random, shy new girl to everyone else. For the first few weeks, I was DEAD sure everyone knew I was trans and that I was totally delusional about this “fresh start” business. But, as I slowly drew up the courage to converse with classmates (particularly the other girls in my program), I realized that I had quietly slid into cis-assumption. And, I have to admit…it was really, really nice. No Trans 101, no awkward stairs while people try to pick out the incongruencies that would give aware my birth sex, no avoidant or hesitant conversations. At times, I’d begin to wonder if someone had finally picked up on something that would get me clocked, but then I’d be feeling unwell and someone would ask if it was my ‘time of the month”, or something along those lines. I even once made a major slip and mentioned my complete avoidance of Catholic hospitals because of my fear of being left to die, to which my wonderful classmate said “Well, it’s not like you HAVE to tell them that you’re gay!”. So as the weeks stretched into months, the idea that I HAD to tell everyone that I’m a trans woman slowly drifted to background…it became easier to just skip around the potential issues and make the small revisions to my personal history to make it congruent with what they perceive of me. Initially, I chalked it up to “oh, well, I don’t know these people! It’s none of their business!”. Once I got to know a few people better, I told myself that I was just protecting myself…life was already stressful enough in grad school, why should I risk making it worse by coming out? About two-thirds of the way into the semester, it really hit me- I had edged into the gray outer reaches of stealth. While I’m not asking anyone to lie for me, I am being revisionist about my personal history for the sake of “passing”, and that’s definitely active deception.

Again, I just kinda put it to the back of my mind for a long while, as I had numerous other personal stresses to deal with at the time. For the a good portion of the semester, I had actually put pretty much ALL thoughts about trans/queer/feminist issues and most of my activist tendencies on hold so I could focus completely on brutally difficult core classes in my PhD program. However, as I reached the last few weeks of Fall semester and my brain gradually unfogged from the extreme studying, I realized how much I missed all of that…which in turn led me to serious examine my being semi-stealth when it comes school. I have to admit now, that I’m bothered by my behavior. Sure, I’m being visible for queer women (which is, of course, important!) as a whole, but my stealthy-ness isn’t do a damn thing for the trans community, and that’s not at all like me. I feel like I’m bending to will of cis-society, being a “good” trans girl by not making a fuss and quietly going about my business. Furthermore, it really started to erode my personal identity…I wasn’t being ME; I was being the person that society wanted to be. And it happened EASILY…it’s the path of least resistance in many sense. And as I said, I even enjoyed to an extent. It’s forced a major shift in my perceptions of stealth and those who choose it.

I still definitely want people to not be stealth…I do think it’s harmful on a personal level, and I’ve now personally experienced how easily it can start to erode your own identity. But even more, I want to live in a world where no one ever feels like they HAVE to go stealth, where trans people are just as loved and accepted as anyone else. I’ve previously harbored some pretty negative feelings about stealth trans people, and certainly made some fairly negative statements about them. And for that, I’m sorry. Being trans is among the most difficult situations that can be thrust upon a person, and anyone who manages to survive it and live a life that makes them happy should be celebrated…even if they choose to distance themselves from our community. If stealth is way that makes your life happy and livable, I support you. If being out and proud is what makes you happy, I support you and stand with you. To that end, I’m ready to start being more visible. I’m ready to shake people’s perceptions of what a trans woman is, and to be a success story in the sciences that we really need. I’m scared to death to do it, but I know it’s only way to really do what I set to do when made the decision to transition: to live my life genuinely as the real me.

Happy Holidays, or “I’m not quite dead!”

So, my hiatus from blogging lasted considerably longer than I had hoped. In the first few weeks of my first semester of graduate school, I had sincerely hoped that I’d find a comparatively normal work-life balance. Sadly, that turned out to just not be the case, and I needed to remain completely focused on classwork and research for the entirety of the semester. But, now that hoops have been jumped through (which I’ll talk about in a later post), I’m looking forward to making time for regular posts once again. I already have several new pieces underway, plus a year-end review!

In the mean time, I just wanted to share send wishings of Happy Holidays to everyone, and particularly to those who are either forced to spend time with unaccepting family, or simply have no one at all because of their choice to live genuinely (in whatever way that might be relevant to you). I’m having a bit of a challenging holiday myself, and I just wanted everyone to know that they’re not forgotten, and that there’s more love in the world than just the kind that comes from blood family.

So Happy Holidays to my trans sisters and brothers, my LGBTQIA+ compatriots, my fellow feminist warriors, all the allies of the world, nerds everywhere, my chosen family, and the members of my blood family who DO support and accept me me.

Remember always that you are loved, and worthy of love.

-TheTNF

ABC News Editor De-Transitions (maybe), or “There, and back again: a case of tragic media sensationalism.”

Transgender News Editor Says He’s Not Transgender Anymore – Dawn Ennis Becomes Don Ennis Again – Cosmopolitan.

 

If you read my little corner of the interwebs with any regularity, you might be a little shocked to see me linking to a story from Cosmopolitan. Hell, I’m shocked to BE linking a story from Cosmo. But, as this story pretty fresh in the headlines, this is actually the only piece so far that seems to cover all the facts AND isn’t incredibly transphobic. So, +1 in the good column for Cosmo for once.  As I read and researched this particular story, I was weary of even writing a commentary. But it’s one of those thing that’s just entirely too visible and has the potential to do a lot of harm to just stick my head in the sand over.

So, I’ll start, as I so often to do, with the background. A few months back, Don Ennis, a producer with ABC News came out proudly and publicly as a trans woman, and announced she would now be living her life as Dawn. My heart went out to her; transitioning later in life, particularly with a very public job, is a very scary thing and she was handling it quite bravely. Overall, the media handled it fairly respectfully, and I was impressed. The story sat on my queue for commentary for a few days, but I couldn’t come up with a ton of meaningful commentary other than “Go Dawn!”, so I put my writing energies into other pieces. Well, today Dawn announced that she was returning to life as Don, and that the entire thing had been a big misdiagnosis and misunderstanding. Dawn explains in an email to colleagues that she had been suffering from a hormonal imbalance for years and that it had been triggered by being given female hormones by her mother so that she could continue a career as a child-actor. She goes on to explain that she recently suffered from a episode of transient global amnesia that took him back to a point where he hadn’t identified as female, and that following her recovery from that episode, she no longer suffered from gender dysphoria.

There are just so many things frustrating and confusing about this situation. The biggest challenge here is that the story was first covered by the New York Post, a source that I out-and-out refuse to link to because I believe it lacks anything even approaching journalistic integrity. As far as I have been able to locate through the magic of my google-fu, the full text of the email isn’t available anywhere, nor has Dawn released any official public statement. I searched high and low for a way to contact her and confirm this story directly (other than tweeting directly at her, which felt accusatory and cruel), and came up empty. So, there’s no way to verify that what the Post is reporting is even factual. Trans people make easy targets for this kind of harassment, so I place it as entirely plausable that this entire situation is a concoction of some kind designed to grab headlines and thoroughly humiliate Ms Ennis. [Note, I’m continuing to use to refer to her as female as I cannot find any secondary verification of this story). I am catagorically NOT accusing anyone of doing this, just posing it as a possibility that cannot be eliminated.

So, since I’m unwilling to take it as fact that there’s truth to the situation, the rest of my commentary here is framed in the hypothetical that the article is true. If this does turn out to be true, there’s a lot that doesn’t add up. I’m not going to tear it all apart, because I feel like there’s enough of that already going on with this story. But, I will say that experience that’s allegedly described in the email regarding “transient global amnesia” doesn’t seem to fit the literature descriptions of this condition. That, combined with some of the other pieces of her statements both when coming out and in this alleged email, point to possibility of someone who wasn’t quite prepared for the stresses and complications that living full-time entail, and retreated back from the progress she had made. She certainly wouldn’t be the first trans person to do so, and I don’t think anyone who’s lived through transition could blame her. Given that her transition and career were in a very public sphere, it may be that she felt a pressure to come up with an explanation for her de-transitioning (the most common term for returning to your birth gender after beginning transition), and thus the TGA story. Another possibility is that she doesn’t fall as firmly on the “woman” side of the spectrum of gender identity as she had initially thought, and that her time living as a woman left her continuing to feel conflicted,  her ultimate decision was to return to her male life. Again, that’s a completely legitimate experience. Once more, that kind of sudden change back may feel like it requires a lot of explanation even if you didn’t make national headlines when you came out…I can only begin to imagine the pressure she would have felt to explain herself, no matter what the “real” reason for her de-transition. Other possibilities (including that her story is 100% true) exist. Whatever the reasons and/or causes, this is ultimately her decision, and she shouldn’t HAVE to explain it to anyone (aside from, to a certain extent, her wife and children). Ultimately, transition (and by extension de-transition) are personal, medical decisions and the motivations behind them aren’t anyone’s business but our own.  Parker Marie over at Park That Car wrote a wonderful open letter to Dawn (or Don) that touches on some of these issues beautifully.

On a final note, I want to cover why stories like these are so dangerous and why they leave me so concerned and upset. Transgender people have suffered a long, difficult up-hills slog towards the very marginal acceptance we currently have in society. Many people still view our situation with skepticism at best, vitriolic disgust and violent hatred at worst. When a case like this breaks into the headlines, it grabs attention so much more than the many thousands of positive transition stories from blogs, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages around the world. It gives the transphobic activists munition to drum up fear of us, and it endangers baby steps of progress we make each day. Transgender stories are still all too often treated a titillating “weird news” with no respect for the people or communities involved. Transgender topics remain inherently sensational, and negative stories about trans people even more so. Not a single post or article beyond the Cosmo posting and Parker’s Open letter even begin to touch on how this might affect the transgender community as a whole, or takes absolutely any steps to clarify that the experiences of Ms Ennis are an extremely unusual case and should not be extrapolated to other transgender individuals. That kind of failure just spreads more wrong or misguided ideas about the trans community and transition, which must, in turn, be debunked and disproved by our community in our writing and conversations.  The media as a whole needs to seriously examine how it treats transgender people and topics, and maybe think about treating like us actual human beings. It’s simply unacceptable that any trans related topic that makes the news continues to be reported as if it were some seedy criminal sex scandal.

Oh, and just for the record, and to ensure that I’m thoroughly communicating where all of this has gone wrong, let’s dispel some of the notions the coverage around this story may have created. The cause of gender dyphoria/gender identity disorder is still largely unknown; we were not all given cross-gender hormones by our parents as children. We’ve also generally pretty much always felt this way; we don’t just randomly wake-up one day with gender dysphoria, nor does it just suddenly vanish one day. Inducing an episode of transient global amnesia will not “cure” gender dysphoria. Finally, transition is a complicated and difficult process and not everyone has the social, economic, or psychological resources to undertake it. Just because someone decides to not continue with transition does not invalidate their gender dysphoria, nor does it invalidate the dysphoria and transition decisions of anyone else.

If it turns out this story is just hokum, then I’m dreadfully sorry to Dawn for dragging her name through something so ugly, and I will replace this story with a lengthy evisceration of the Post as soon as I figure out what happened. If the story is legitimate, then I wish Don the best, and hope that the decisions he has made are the ones that will bring him happiness.

A New Safe Space in Chicago, or “Service, space, and community? What a concept!”

Chicago House opens nation’s first transgender housing.

My hat is off to some really wonderful people in Chicago today. Chicago House has pulled out all the stops to set up a safe living space for at-risk trans people in the greater Chicago area called the TransLife Center. It’s part of a larger organization effort they’ve titled the TransLife Project to improve the lives of transgender individuals in Chicago. As many of you may know, housing security is a huge concern for transgender people, and we suffer from a much higher-than-average rate of homelessness. Although Chicago House is primarily a organization geared towards caring for those with HIV/AIDS, they have recently expanded their efforts with the trans community at the urging of activists within their troup. The TLC will be a space where trans people can live safely if they are need as they get on their feet (transitional housing), as well as get access to employment services and health care. I think this will be a huge boon to the community of Chicago.

I think it would be fantastic to see groups in other cities follow this model and make sure that vulnerable trans people do not fall through the cracks and end up on the street or worse. The rates of suicide and homicide for the transgender community are very high, and homelessness only increases those risks.

Kudos to you, Chicago House, for all your hard work!