Archive for the ‘ Trans ’ Category

Waiting

I’d like to think of myself as straight. I know, I know, it’s so boring. Who wants to be straight anyway? But I think I’ve done enough self-examination to know where I stand on this. Perhaps the act of being straight is nice and easy for those of you out there who are (raise your hand, most of you). Actually, it’s pretty straightforward for me too (pun totally intended). Perhaps you’ve never really thought about it, though, so let’s pull apart some of the constructs of heterosexuality for a minute.

Like any social construct it hasn’t been around forever even if we feel like it has. That’s not really the point I’m trying to make, though. When I say heterosexuality, I am talking about attraction to people of the opposite sex. But there, we’ve already made a misstep. Or we haven’t made a misstep but it would be more appropriate to say heterosexual attraction consists of two people from the two opposite sexes that the majority of folks ascribe to. It’s an important distinction. The majority is no more normative than the minority. All variations are normal; some are just composed of more individuals than others. As we use that term, though, even if you’ve never thought about the lexical properties of it, those are properties that are implied therein as most folks use it.

The lexical properties of heterosexuality also imply cisness to many people. It is a limited view and a terrible assumption, but in my personal experience, it’s quite prevalent. I’m not here to extol the virtues of passing (far too much emphasis is placed on it, for the comfort of cis folks, not the well-being of trans folks) but I understand why anyone would want to. It fails to address the underlying problems, but I get not wanting to be misgendered during simple day-to-day transactions. I get not wanting to draw the wrong kind of attention to yourself that may lead to something much worse than being called sir by a bouncer at a bar. It seems like it may make things easier to some degree, but I think that is an illusory sort of comfort. A lot of this is about illusion, after all. It’s the appearance of normalcy so many folks seem to crave. Add to that a rather limited view of masculinity in terms of what is or isn’t acceptable, and it’s not a great world out there for trans women who are attracted to men. Masculinity is such a fragile construct; anything that shatters that illusion is dangerous. Even appearing to be in a relationship with a trans person is a real blow to that construct, especially if you are a cishet man.

At best, I am moving through a world that treats me like a woman. At worst, I am moving through a world that still treats me like a man (trust me, there are not really any ancillary benefits to that. It’s not like I get paid like a man). And sometimes, I am moving through a world that doesn’t quite know how to treat me, that doesn’t really see me as female, but also doesn’t see me as male either. It happens less now, but it still happens. I have no problem being straight as much as it is difficult to find men who accept me as who I am. Which necessarily affects my chances of dating. I am not, and will not be, your secret shame. I am perfectly happy to remain single instead of hidden. I spent far too much of my life hidden to go back into any sort of situation like that. I’ve been on enough first dates to know. I’ve seen the look that says “you should have said something”. I’ve been in conversations that stopped as soon as I say I’m trans. I don’t run from it any more than I grab a megaphone and shout from the hilltops that I am. I shouldn’t have to do either. I am proud to be trans and live openly, but that doesn’t mean I owe any man anything in regard to who I am.

To bring it back to the idea of heterosexuality, in my experience, most men who are willing to being in a relationship with me don’t identify that way. Which isn’t a problem, I honestly think it’s awesome that people find who they are. It just says a lot of men seem to have to break out of the limited constructs of masculinity and heterosexuality before they are comfortable with the idea of a relationship with a trans person. While I personally identify as straight, there’s a good chance anyone open enough to be in a relationship with me may not. Which is funny when you think about it. Or perhaps I just laugh because sometimes it’s better than crying. Within all of this, I wonder if how I identify necessarily affects my chances of meeting folks. But I don’t think that’s it. All I’m trying to be in this world is who I am. And who I am is a straight trans woman waiting for a world to catch up.

You Were Not Always You

I haven’t done this every year. But most years, June rolls around, I count to a new number, and I reflect. Some years I say it better than others. I’ll always remember June 2nd, 2008. It is a tangible date made whole, the culmination of actions and decisions and truly it will always be one of the most realized days of my life. Though the act of coming out, of truly being yourself, has more than a single date attached, I hope some day this is something most younger people will never understand. But I don’t think we’re there yet. And there are always going to be folks who just need more time to figure out who they are, even in a more open world. Perhaps you have never had a date like that, perhaps you will never need one, though it is worth remembering that is not the case for everyone. That’s why it’s important to be openly and visibly trans, to foster a world where, if you do not yet know that date, even if you are not aware that is how you will be yet, hopefully the date you get to be your best self is coming soon. Not everyone gets to show up and just be themselves. Most of us have to find ourselves, in a world that still does not want us to do that.

If you are so fortunate that you’ve never had to think about anything like this, perhaps reflect on those who will never be fortunate enough to be themselves. Perhaps reflect on that cost. Perhaps reflect on that loss. We have a lot of work yet to do to create a society that allows each of us to show up as ourselves. When I talk about showing up as myself, that doesn’t mean I’m always walking into a room waving a trans pride flag. Part of being who we are is just as much getting to bring all of who we are as it is not having to put that forward if we choose not to. Much of that gets back to agency. The same agency to be ourselves applies to telling our stories or how we show up to anything. Some of us have less choice in that matter, of course, not fitting into the strict rubrics of what we expect from the gender binary. That’s what causes that tension, that’s what makes it so hard to be ourselves. That’s why it’s so important to tell our stories if we choose. That’s why it’s so important to not fit in, to be not who everyone has told us we should be but who truly are, in whatever way that is.

The past year has been a pretty good one for me personally, but in the broader scope, it felt like a backwards slide. I finally changed my birth certificate and passport, finishing off the last tangible documents I needed to take care of, which I assure you is no small feat. But it feels like much of the world around me is moving in a different direction. As trans visibility increases, the reaction is not celebration, but reactionary fear. Cities and states reject expanded equality protections on the grounds they include trans people. Some places have gone so far as to outright criminalize the act of using a public restroom while trans. I feel like I see more people baselessly comparing trans women to predators. And while I’m heartened by the lack of success and pushback I see in some places, there are still far too many outlets that do not challenge these lies about who trans folks are. They uncritically promulgate fear without facts, failing to mention there has been no instance of anyone pretending to be trans to do this. And as even respected media outlets continue to fumble in their coverage, promoting outright hate, it’s trans folks who pay that price. It takes a toll. For me it’s just a mental one; for less fortunate trans folks, particularly trans women of color, it’s much more than that.

Perhaps I’m just more aware of it. I am definitely more aware of my relative position within the overall community than I was eight years ago. One of my goals in the past few years has been to get more involved, and I feel like this is a year that I have finally done a good job of realizing that goal. Not that there is a right or wrong way to be involved. Sometimes it’s the conversations over a dinner or a drink, personalizing while also highlighting I have had a fairly exceptional experience in most regards. Sometimes it’s just taking a few hours a week to volunteer at the SF LGBT Center. Sometimes it going into a space that ostensibly is supposed to include you and doing the work to make sure it is more inclusive, which is why I recently got involved with PRIDE through my employer  again.

That, perhaps, is the best extension of where I am now. I still take care of myself. The whole idea of coming out, of being my best self, it’s been about self-care. Hopefully, I take better care of myself at 35 than I did at 27 because I’ve put in that work. But I am less centered on taking care of myself than I ever have been. Because I don’t need to be anymore. I was not always me and lots of other folks helped me become the person I am now. You were not always you, either. We all need help sometimes. Perhaps more than we would like to admit. Though, I think that is more something we need to change about our society. I could have never done any of this by myself. I am the beneficiary of the hard work and sacrifice of many trans people who came before me. My life may not be easy, but it is certainly easier because of the work of many people I can never properly thank, many people I never can or will know. The only way I can think to thank them is to keep doing that work in whatever way I can. Even if it’s better than it used to be, it’s not nearly good enough. There is still more to do. I can’t wait to see where we’re at next year.

We Are Not Alone

When I walked into the room, I knew I’d be the only trans person. I experience that feeling a lot. Unless it’s a PWR BTTM or G.L.O.S.S. show, I know what kind of crowd I’ll see at the Rickshaw or the Knockout. When I sit at the bar at Church Key, I know who else is coming in for $7 beers; hint, it’s not a lot of other trans folks. But this was different. This was an LGBT focused event hosted by my employer. There were over 30 people there. But I still knew. Well, I don’t really know. We never really know. That’s what makes moving through any space as an out trans person so important.

I was having a conversation with someone about my professional goals, talking about how I want to keep moving up in the company. Obviously this is not an entirely altruistic goal. I’m a good employee and I feel I bring a lot of value, but I also like paying my rent, and San Francisco isn’t getting any cheaper. But I also want to provide an example I’ve never seen as a trans employee rising through the ranks. I don’t know any out employees in senior leadership positions. That’s a gap we still haven’t closed. It is better than it used to be, but coming out can still have an adverse affect on one’s career. I want to see that example of someone moving up, of someone not being held back because of who they are. I think about possibility models, and we’re not all going to be actors, models, writers, and activists. So sure it’s a little selfish, I want to get mine, but I also want to be that person who shows others being yourself won’t hold you back, no matter what it is you do. I want someone else to see that. I want to become the example I never had.

There is power in harnessing being that out person. I don’t want to be THE trans employee. But I am a trans employee. I own that. There is power in being that out person willing to start those conversations. Not that it is any trans person’s job to educate others. Many folks just want to live their lives.I can only provide one person’s experiences and thoughts. I don’t speak for the entire community anymore than anyone else. But I do have the capacity to have those conversations. Some of that is the fortune of a life that has unfolded quite well. So part of me that likes to pay back that relative fortune by giving back where I can, whether that’s time, money, or words. But I just like having those conversations. Not everyone does, but I think that’s just who I am, who I’ve always been. Hopefully it’s better than 2008, but there’s still a chance that I’m the first trans person someone actually meets.

A funny thing happens when we start telling our stories. We realize we are not alone. Our stories are acts of recrudescence, and in that renewal we forge connections. Despite our differences, many of us have more in common than we sometimes remember. With an LGBT audience, there is the shared experience of trying to figure out who we are in a world that goes out of its way to bury examples of who we are, of who we can be. The shared pain of being punished by a world for who we are, the shared joy of overcoming that. It can be easy to focus on the differences, and we should talk about them. HB2 affects me on a much more personal level, just by virtue of the fact it was explicitly passed to try and keep me out of bathrooms in many places in North Carolina. But it’s not my struggle alone. It never was, and it never will be. These bathroom bills may explicitly target trans women, but they rely on noxious enforcement of specific gender norms about who looks like they belong in places. That’s something anyone who’s a little different than society tells them they should be can understand. And I was in a room full of people who are a little bit different than society has told us we should be.

I can’t reach everyone, of course. But it’s not about reaching everyone. It’s about reaching those I can. Sometimes it’s just starting those conversations. Sometimes it’s standing up to be counted. Sometimes it’s pushing back when the next person shares some terrible meme on Facebook. The most powerful tool I have is my voice. And while I don’t go looking to pick fights with bigots, I also won’t back down. I refuse to be silenced. Other people need to hear our voices. There are still folks out there who need to see they are not alone. Keep talking, keep reaching out, keep an open mind, keep hoping, and keep working toward those hopes because they just don’t happen on their own. That’s what I can do. The next time I walk into that room? Hopefully I won’t be the only trans person there.

No One Tells Me To Smile

“What’s up baby?” He almost whispers as he gives me an upnod. It’s like he doesn’t want anyone else to hear. I almost don’t catch it as I am running by. It’s unwanted male attention in its mildest form, not lascivious but still uncalled for. Harassment almost seems like too strong a word yet that’s what it is. By the time I process all of what just happened, I am already gone, 10 strides up the street and more focused on finishing my run than anything. But it sticks with me. Both in the sense that it was unwanted and it is exceedingly rare in my life, which I appreciate. But I never like dwelling on why.


I am in a Uber in Charlotte, on my way back to the hotel. The driver of the Dodge Charger, he’s telling a story about helping these two women change a tire. He keeps laying it on thick, all hand gestures even as he speeds down I-85. He spits out a string of puerile terms to describe what he seems to think is just his objective appreciation of these two women, slamming, smoking, and so on. Objective and like an object are so similar and yet so different. I am reticent to say anything, so I opt to say nothing at all. I just want to get back to my hotel safely. I know the tenor of these stories, the way men talk when they don’t think women are around. I still hear them with far too much frequency.


My contact in Charlotte is introducing me to folks in the office. It’s good to put faces to names, but this is the entire reason I dreaded this trip. Once or twice, people are pretty good about pronouns. But over and over? I’ve heard this script before. Before long it’s just he, over and over. Did everyone else notice? Of course they did. Later I learn someone did notice, but was just following my lead. Maybe I should speak up. But I don’t know what to say. It’s hard enough with people I know better; it’s even more difficult on a work trip surrounded by strangers. No one else says anything either. No one else ever says anything. I tell my boss about it after the trip. He gets madder than I did about the whole thing and asks if I want to do anything about it. I say no. He did the exactly the same at our last team gathering.


I sip on a Metro Lager at Sutter St Station. I am running early for a meet up with a guy from a dating site. He comes in a couple minutes early and gives me that look. You know that look. Actually, hopefully you don’t. It’s loud so he asks if I wanna go someplace quieter to talk. I agree and finish my beer though I’m in no rush. I already know where this is going. The first thing he says when we get outside is that I didn’t say I was trans. He demands to know why. I respond with a question, why I am obligated to make that one of the first things I say about myself? It’s a valid question, one he doesn’t even attempt to answer, one no man in my experience ever attempts to answer. He then demands to know if I am fully trans. I wish I didn’t know what he means by that. But I know exactly what he means. I have spent my whole life trying to distance myself from people like this. But there’s just as many of them in San Francisco as there were in Minneapolis. I tell him that he can keep walking toward the Ferry Building. I turn back towards Sutter St Station.


This is all just the past month or so. I am sure there are more examples, but I forget more than I remember. I don’t know how else to survive. Next month will provide more anyway. I know I am luckier than most, that despite the psychic toll, what I deal with is largely benign with regard to me well-being and safety, and much less than many trans folks. That realization leaves me speechless some days. I know who I am. I don’t need the validation of others. But it’s hard to shake those specters. After eight years, I thought people would be better. Certainly many things are. But not nearly enough. I can’t keep waiting for the world to catch up. But I can’t make it move any faster either. No one wants to be harassed and no one should be. It’s rare anyone touches me awkwardly; no one tells me to smile. I am grateful, since that should not happen anyway. But it’s not because men have magically figured out how to treat me alone better. Without asking, I’ll never really know why. But I know why.

You Know I Dreamed About You

One of the cool things about modern life is the ability to connect. As a trans woman, that would have been awesome when I was younger, but I was not quite savvy enough for the channels that were there then. These days? A Twitter handle and a hashtag will do the trick. And once you end up connected to the periphery, you soon find yourself connected to exactly as much as you want to be, whether that’s a lot or a little. Perhaps I would have been more connected, but I had already been out a long time before I really came to Twitter. No matter though. It’s still nice to be connected to a community no matter when you find it. One of the messages I see kick up is that you (you being the trans person) are worthy of love. Which is all fine and well. It’s a great and true message. But where do I find that?

Perhaps at a previous in point in life, I’d feel that I were not worthy of love. I am wise enough now to know that is not true. But I feel live pithy wisdom elides over the gap between “you are worthy of love” and “you can find the people who are willing to be those people”. Which hey, I get it, we all face that. It’s neither fate nor does it happen on accident. Some degree of it is just putting in the effort. It’s not the most glamorous way to think about relationships perhaps. In a society that shoves true love down your throat it’s definitely not how you want to think of it. But all relationships are work. Love doesn’t obviate the need for effort. Perhaps it makes it easier, but it certainly does not obviate it.

I’ve mused on it before. I still don’t know an answer. I vacillate between whether I need to put more work in or not. Sometimes I agree with that, but I don’t know, at a certain point diminishing returns kick in. There’s only so many guys you can meet that are already in relationships, guys you meet who can’t get your name right even though it’s simple (and yes, I know what that means, thank you very much), only so many “ur hot” and 5,000+ character exegeses you can receive on dating apps before you just realize that you are working with a limited pool. There’s nothing wrong with me for being trans, but I still need to bridge the gap between nothing being wrong with me and finding a pool of guys that I connect with that also feel that way. Then narrow that pool a bit more and find guys that I actually click with. It’s not so easy. It’s especially not easy when you are trans. It’s easy to blame yourself. It’s easy to say so many things are wrong with you.

But like I said, even when you realize it’s not your fault, that there’s nothing wrong with who you are, that doesn’t change anything. I’m still moving through a cissexist world. I’m still judged not on how much I am like myself but how cis I seem. Or I have to find people who exist outside those standards, but good luck with that. This isn’t to say that it’s easier or harder than it is for other people, but just to say that it’s hard. It’s really fucking hard and I want you to understand that. Even if the rest of my life is in order, it still feels like there’s a big hole there. Part of that is societal. Even as more people live alone, it still feels like we should all be together. Some of that is messaging, but some of that messaging comes from how we feel. Beyond that, I still feel like learning how to form relationships is a skill I just missed out on, something that a lot of trans people miss out on when they don’t get to have a normal adolescence, and now I don’t know how I am supposed to catch up. I still have to deal with the fact that somehow disclosing trans status is a material admission that could have an effect on my personal well-being, not just something about me like where I grew up. I may see examples of positive relationships, I know they exist and certainly can be (and am) happy for people who have found them, but they still appear Barmecidal at best from where I stand.

So how do I connect with the person I’m looking for? How do I find him? What do I try now? Who else out there can’t decide between whether “Slow Show” by The National or “When You Sleep” by My Bloody Valentine would be a better first dance song? I don’t know. I go through fits and spurts of just not trying at all. I am ebbing out of one of those, but there’s still that hopelessness, gnawing, waiting to pull you back in. Everyone interesting I meet personally is in a relationship anyway. No one is going to try and set me up with anyone. I’m not saying you should. I am saying that to point out subtly how you think of me. I don’t think that’s just my personality. But again, that’s not a challenge. It’s just an admission of how the world thinks of me. A better world does not mean a good one. We are not there yet. Plenty of people don’t think of me as a man, but that doesn’t mean they think of me as a woman either. I’ve written a lot of these entries before. Chances are I’ll write quite a few more. It’s how I process these kinds of feelings. I’m good at being alone, but I’m terrible at being lonely. Like anything, though, it’s a skill. You learn how to live with this feeling. Even if you want it to change. Even if you know there’s nothing wrong with you. I may have come that far. I may have done all that I can. Perhaps I just need the world to catch up. Perhaps it just won’t. All I can do is keep dreaming about that world. All I can do is keep trying to make that dream real. We all need to dream. If we don’t dream, we die.

Live Deliberately

Maybe this time I’ll get it right. No, no, that’s not the right approach. There are plenty of things in life you will not get right the first time. Perhaps I shouldn’t foist that upon you, but I know there are plenty of things I didn’t, haven’t, and likely won’t get right the first time. It’s taken me a long time to come around on tenets that comprise the core of my being, whether that’s as a vegan, a non-driving city dweller who wants more city for everyone, or as a woman, to mention a few key ones. Each of those has taken me years to refine. It’s never about being the best. What’s best, anyway? It’s about being a better person than I was yesterday. Sometimes I don’t do a good job with that. We all have our bad days. Hell, some of us have had bad lives. Perhaps a younger version of me would have blamed a lot of people for that. The current version knows damn well a lot of us are doing the best with what we have and some of us don’t have nearly as much as we should.

As I become a more realized version of myself, though, I live in a world that does not seem prepared for it. I trundle through a city with laughable bike infrastructure, wondering about what the next pothole or trolley track or car might do to me, aware that the article would inevitably point out that I was not wearing a helmet like that excuses the body count of our car-first culture. I watch as your jaw drops a little when I say I don’t really miss bacon at all, because that’s a difficult world for so many to comprehend. I stand mortified, afraid to correct a co-worker who misgenders me because I hope against hope that no one else even noticed and then my heart drops when I realize they probably didn’t notice because that’s how they think of me too. I used to think they were all demonstrably different aspects of who I am, the cyclist, the vegan, the trans woman, and in some ways, they are but they aren’t really, inasmuch as they are all elements that very much set me apart from the mass of men who lead lives of quiet desperation,  trapped in their cars, trapped in their masculinity. Efforts to push against that will not be tolerated.

Of course, in some ways, they are demonstrably different. People give me strange looks when I say I bike to work, they look like they pity me when I say I’ll pass on the milk chocolate, but they give me downright hostile looks just for assert myself as a woman. There’s a slim chance I’ll get in an accident riding, and I might go hungry for a meal, but being trans is enough to put your life in danger. Less so for me than for many others, less by virtue and more by luck, but it is still a more real possibility than any other danger I face. Some days, I feel I am living less deliberately and more defiantly, though that is just a function of a society that treats any deviation from the norm as defiance. We may encompass vast ranges, but so much comes down to binary choices: yes/no, man/woman, black/white. Ours is not a culture of nuance. It is barely a culture of change. We stake to calcified opinions that we do not question. It’s hard to change your mind on something, and it’s even harder to share that with the world. It always requires an explanation, and even then, we still hold old versions of ourselves over each other. Even as I have changed so much, I still do it. I know this is something I have struggled with and continue to challenge myself on; I understand it is difficult. I know it’s easy to forget how everyone else’s life is in motion just like our own when everything appears static from the outside. I get that our realities complicate and compromise our best efforts to live deliberately. So many things outside of our control affect it. I get that we all have to make choices with the finite time we have. I get that what is right for me may not be right for you, as there are so many different ways of living. Or at least I get that now, though I doubt I understood that nearly as well even a few short years ago.

It’s not about getting there first. I want to live in a culture that celebrates trans realities, and if you are already there and realize that trans people are just that, people, cool. But there’s no special ribbon for getting there first. And it’s also worth remembering there was a time when perhaps you didn’t think of it that way. I don’t take that as a sign that some people are more evolved or anything like that. I take that as a reminder that there are areas that I probably don’t challenge myself on that I may come to realize in the future are absurd. I take as a reminder to be open to thinking another way. I may have once struggled to see myself as the woman I am, but now I can’t see myself as anything but. The act of living deliberately isn’t about questioning every little thing all the time. We still have to function on a daily basis and it can be paralyzing to always be like that. But it does mean we should engage those questions. Being trans is really great preparation for that. Perhaps you have a different teacher in that regard. We can’t change the past. But luckily, we aren’t those people anymore, even if we see ourselves and others that way sometimes. I know it’s hard. I know other people may not understand, perhaps now, perhaps ever. I know it’s a lot easier to look back and ascribe a purpose to all of it than it is to see in the moment. Maybe I will finally get it right this time. But if I don’t, then how am I going to be better tomorrow?

Ameliorate

Today it was no one. Yesterday it wasn’t anyone either. In fact, I have to think back a few days to the last time someone misgendered me. But it’s never long. This is not new ground for me. I doubt there will ever be truly new ground when it comes to dealing with gender in our society, at least for me. Perhaps you never have to deal with this. But I am not so lucky, and I never will be. That’s not pessimism, that’s seven plus years of being out talking. If there is a time when society catches up, when it’s ready to accept gender not just because you happen to be cis or “I never would have known you were trans”,well, I welcome it. But some people have had over seven years and can’t manage to grasp that I’m female. I may be binary, but I’ll never be all that conforming. I didn’t change so much as you never asked and I didn’t find the means to say otherwise for a long time. Quite a few people I know can’t tell you my dead name. I don’t even have any legal docs left that have it. The only tangible evidence is the constant inability of people to respect who I am. It’s why I’ll always have at least one coworker who ends up misgendering me at some awkward moment (aren’t they all though?). For those that don’t screw up, there’s steps beyond you’ll never get, like why I dislike calling branches unless I absolutely have to. It’s why I always have to be vigilant, even when I’m relaxing with friends, because really, it takes a long time to build that trust, and less than a second to destroy it. And if I don’t know you that well? I guarantee it’s on my mind. I guarantee I heard you. I guarantee it affects what I think of you since you just showed me what you think of me.

I go through phases where I try to be better about calling people out on this. Because people quite obviously fail to grasp how to respect other people on their own. I vacillate every time someone screws up. Is it worth the effort? Are you worth the effort? Should I for whoever’s next, even it does nothing to ameliorate how I feel now? I can see it when you write James on my order at a restaurant, when I don’t explain firmly but simply it’s not sir. The wounded cis look that says it’s what you said or I was just trying to be polite is a look I’m more than familiar with. It’s a little different than the I’m just an asshole cis look. People with that look think they are so clever, denying who I am, but assholes like that aren’t usually worth the time. They bother me in as much as they comprise a significant amount of the population, but not so much as they are people who don’t seem to want to be better. Of course, not caring about them doesn’t mean I don’t have to spend my time dealing with them. I do. All the time.

Do you ever wonder what people say about you when you’re not in the room? I try not to spend too much time thinking about that, but how can I not? What good is it if someone is just playing along? It’s hard not to feel that way with so many people. It’s hard to really know. In fact, it’s something I’ll never know. But I’ve learned to let that go. I cannot control that. But I worry nonetheless. How we think about people matters, the words we use to describe each other. If people don’t think of me as a woman, then they are never going to get it right. The problem is, it’s not just the assholes that do that. That’s longtime friends. That’s my fucking parents. It all feels like an elaborate dance sometimes, like only peacockish displays of gender conformity get some people to go along. But there’s a difference between being feminine and being a woman. Wearing a dress shouldn’t affect how you address someone one. I don’t wear them for your benefit. I wear them for mine. Even those overt, highly gendered markers fail much of the time, though. Which isn’t to say that you should automatically see someone with a purse and think they’re a woman, because you don’t necessarily have all that information, but it is a bit naive to not think it’s at least a clue. Frequently, you don’t really need to know someone’s gender. But if you do? It’s better to ask than to guess, I can tell you that. If you’ve already asked, then why is it such an issue to get it right? It’s not magic, you just have to make the effort.

Some might think it something that eventually goes away, that the longer you’re truly you, it’ll get better. But that’s a lie. It doesn’t get better. You make it better. I spend significant amounts of energy navigating existence in a world that just as soon wishes I were no longer here, that I were never here to begin with. That’s why I try to call it out when I still have energy left, but frequently I just don’t have it. I’ve spent that dealing with all the other bullshit that goes along with being trans in our society, or the bullshit that goes along with being an adult, or living in San Francisco, or whatever. I get you’re dealing with a lot of shit, too, but that’s why you have to try. You can call out that kind of behavior too, cis people. On the Internet, with your real, live trans friends, wherever and whenever. I guarantee they’ll appreciate it. It’s a rare thing, I’ve found, someone else coming to my defense, and always welcome. I can take care of myself, I assure you every time it comes up I’m doing the calculus in my head, but I can’t be there for every conversation. I can’t correct you when I’m not there and you use a slur to talk about me or intentionally misgender me. Maybe you are there. Maybe you can. As an added bonus, I bet it’ll make you more aware of that with the trans people in your life, your friends and coworkers and loved ones. It’s not much I am asking you to do. It’s the same thing I try to do every day. Be better.

Default

Every few months, I vacillate between disclosing my trans status on dating sites. Right now, I’m in one of those phases where I’m very up front about it, to the point where I am directly challenging any dude who wanders through my profile to get over themselves if they cannot square finding me attractive with the fact that I’m trans. Because really, the two do not have anything to do with each other. If I’m an attractive woman to you, it shouldn’t matter whether my path to womanhood was less normative than the path to womanhood for a lot of others out there. But it does matter. Quite a bit in fact. Some people pretend to be polite about it by saying things “oh, you’re trans, not really into that” like they are enlightened but this attractive person suddenly changed a little bit. The reality is they had a perception of me that changed but they never should have had that perception in the first place. I wish people stopped thinking they knew something about me that they don’t really know, but I’m not sure how to change that other than to keep saying “stop doing that”.

This is inevitably more of an issue with cishet dudes. Or at least dudes that appear to be cishet based on what they say about themselves, though I try not to make too many assumptions about that. Because I don’t want people making those assumptions about me. Even a cishet dude deserves the right to declare his own identity, though does he really need to in a world that assumes that already? No, which is why they never have to. And when you’re set as the default in society, it contributes to that feeling that it’s everyone else’s responsibility to tell you how they are not that. But even when I tell them that, right up front, in direct terms, it’s still an issue. But why?

Well, that’s easy. It’s a challenge to the way we traditionally see heterosexual masculinity. Or rather, how we see men with trans women. Which is to say that we don’t see those men as entirely heterosexual because for the most part, no matter how open-minded people claim to be, they have a lot of trouble seeing trans women as women. It’s why people say about normatively attractive trans women that they never would have known they were trans. Or put another way, it’s a system of saying, I just thought you were normal. But as soon as that’s known information, you can see the wheels turning in their heads, trying to figure out how those individuals are trans, if you will. People spend a lot of time questioning the authenticity of most any trans woman’s womanhood as if cis women are a monolith with one shared history that we somehow missed out on. We have a long way to go in that regard.

In my experience, at least, most guys who find me attractive and continue to once they know I’m trans don’t identify as straight. Which is fine, you do you. These are guys who are comfortable with themselves, and that’s all the better. That’s not a problem to me. I certainly understand the pressures if men feel constrained from expressing the quite natural variations in their masculinity and heterosexuality, so I kind of get why that is. But the problem does affect me. It affects how those men react to me when we’re having a good conversation and suddenly the shut it down as soon as my trans status becomes common knowledge. One doesn’t need to look that far to see how the intersection of trans status, along with other factors, leads to far more violent reactions on the part of men than a simple dismissal.

Even if I understand the pressures, though, those guys have a lot less to lose than any trans person. They have to apologize away their attraction; I am expected to apologize away my entire existence, or at least there seem to be a significant number of people who expect me to. I won’t. I’ve grown past that. I am not sorry for who I am, and I won’t apologize for finally getting over significant societal pressure to not be myself because it makes you uncomfortable. So you’ll have to excuse me if I am a little frustrated because you can’t get over what people will think of you for finding me attractive. You won’t get fired for it. You won’t get kicked out of your home for it. So I’m not all that sympathetic. Certainly there are men who don’t feel that way. I’ve just had trouble finding them. Too bad that is not the default.

Repeating Myself

 

There are a number of sadly typical recurring scenes in my life. For example, here’s one at random:

“Can I get your name?”

“Jane.”

“James?”

“Jane.”

Or here’s another one at random:

I exit a bathroom as a woman walks by. She goes back, looks at the door, and gives me a look again.

These both happen…more than you think. Or maybe as much as you think. That probably depends on your perspective. I could pick a number of other random examples. Most of them are relatively benign, like those. Though I’ve certainly had some experiences that have been outright hostile, most of what I experience feels benevolent in intention. They just want to get my name right. They just want to make sure I find the right bathroom or they are in the right one. That probably owes itself to the ways in which I experience privilege in conjunction with the ways in which I do not. Still, I find I spend a lot of time asserting my identity, always repeating myself.

Here’s another example at random:

I am finally updating my passport. I have a legally amended birth certificate. You’d think that’d be good enough to satisfy the Passport Agency. Changing the name on a passport isn’t all that difficult. After all, cis people do that all the time, so there’s a system built for that. Changing your sex on a passport, though? Since I got a passport with my original birth certificate which had my assigned sex at birth, I require a doctor’s note. At least as far as I can tell from the scant available information online and from someone I spoke to on the phone. Perhaps, after I go in to get that updated, they will tell me I never needed that. But I can’t tell based on the information available, and I don’t want to have to spend even more time dealing with them, so I’m in the process of getting a note from my doctor. The idea behind having a doctor provide that note is that it is inherently difficult for many trans people to update their legal documentation, so there needs to be a way for trans individuals to get accurate documentation. Which is great because that’s definitely true. The problem is that requirement is wielded in such a way that even when people have updated documentation, they still need that if they held a passport that previously had the incorrect sex on it. At least as far as I can tell. Hopefully I’m the exception. That rule should be making a lot of trans folks’ lives easier. That’s the intention. They hold to an interpretation so fastidiously that it ends up making mine harder. There’s a step beyond having those sorts of rules in place. That step is understanding why they are in place and having a more dynamic system, or better yet, not being in the business of acting as arbiters of ideas like sex and gender when no one can really give a good answer as to why they are.

These all come back to a central point. People don’t trust trans people to accurately speak for themselves. Many people only begrudgingly accept who you are once someone official signs off on it, once you’ve done enough to satisfy them, if there’s ever enough. This can’t be who you are unless a doctor agrees. You can’t get this gender-affirming procedure covered by insurance unless a couple doctors agree. You can’t update this document unless you have that gender-affirming procedure. You couldn’t have said that was your name. Are you sure you checked the right box? Are you in the right place? Is this for your spouse? There’s a thin veneer of politeness over some of this. After all, someone could not have just heard me. I could have just checked the wrong box. But it happens to me too much to just be that. And transphobia is so ingrained in the system that many people don’t think of it as inherently transphobic much of the time. But it’s not just direct actions that are transphobic. Transphobia isn’t just something you participate in actively. Like other forms of discrimination, a lot of it is systemic. It always takes a toll. It always takes more time and energy. Every interaction leaves a scar, everything has an extra step.

There are lots of trans people out there doing lots of amazing things despite much steeper barriers than those examples. Still, it’s hard not to wonder what we could do with all that time if we didn’t have to spend so much time repeating ourselves. I wonder how many more of us would still be around if we didn’t spend so much time repeating ourselves. I want to see that world where we don’t repeat ourselves not because we’re inured, but because we don’t have to. That’s a world where you trust us, you support us, you believe us. That’s a world I want to live in, that’s a world I keep pushing for and supporting in the ways I can, that’s a world I want others to live in. If I have to keep repeating myself to try and make that happen, so be it.

The High Cost Of Living

Recently, I finally got a court order from the County of San Francisco to update my birth certificate. That was $480 plus a decent amount of time. Then I dropped that, more paperwork, a certified copy of my legal name change (another $400+ piece of paper) and another $22 in the mail, shipping it off to the Commonwealth of Virginia. By early September, I should have an updated birth certificate. Then I can get a passport and an updated California driver’s license. Never mind that my Minnesota license is already correct, California wants some different paperwork and my license expires on my next birthday. Sometimes I wonder, how much did it truly cost? 

It’s a trickier question than you might think. Let start with what I needed to update the birth certificate. I am able to update it because I have a vagina and that’s what the state I was born in requires. Seems a bit arbitrary, no? And I have that because my insurance was so kind as to cover my “sex transformation” (as they put it. No. Really) as long as I had all my paperwork in order. I paid my deductible ($2,000) plus some other incidentals since unfortunately I didn’t live 20 miles from San Mateo like I do now (probably another $2,000 or so with travel and hotels). I was out of work for a while after that, too, though thankfully FMLA came through for me on that, but that’s not a given. That vagina requires some minor maintenance, and will forever, but there’s worse fates that dilating, and that’s a fairly minor cost, all things considered, but it’s nonetheless a little time and money, so consider a few bucks every month or so for that as well. Prior to that, I paid about another $500 to make a consult happen. I didn’t need it as much as I needed peace of mind it provided. That, of course, is just my experience. Costs vary wildly, from upwards of $20-25k to others who’ve had similar experiences to me.

Now in order to get insurance to cover the procedure in the first place, I needed two letters from doctors. I had good insurance and lived in the Twin Cities where such a thing was less of a hassle but it’s still a hassle. Now to get those letters takes a while because there’s a degree of time required before they will give them to you. The gist is usually that you are “full-time” (which is a ridiculous term, but bear with me, there’s a lot of ridiculous jargon when you go through the front doors of the gatekeeping process like I did) for two years, which means you are living in your chosen (read: actual) gender for at least two years prior to surgery. Or maybe it’s only one? Either way, the gatekeeping process doesn’t exactly have a vested interest in pushing you along (you’re paying the bills after all). I always felt I was marking time. At best, that’s a few years meeting with doctors. Pretty frequently. Again, fortunate to have good insurance, but even with a decent co-pay I was probably spending a good $60-70 a month. Without it, it would have easily been double. Or not possible. Getting insurance to cover it in the first place was a whole to-do as well, though that only cost me time in the end. Ignoring that, that’s still conservatively about $3,000 over four years or so.

Medications don’t come cheap either. Well, spironolactone wasn’t that expensive, $5 or so, but estradiol, even when covered, ran me $28-35 for eight patches. And you have to take more estradiol at the beginning because you still have all this damn testosterone. So it was two patches twice weekly until miracle of miracles it’s no more spiro and half as much estradiol. Now through some strange act of fortune, even my estradiol is generic (all praise $7 meds) but drug prices always bounce around and it’s not given it’ll stay that way. I’m not here to project, though. I started medically transitioning in May of 2008 at which point I was probably spending about $60-70 a month on meds; after surgery that dropped significantly, but until recently I was still spending $30-35 a month, roughly. Let’s say I’ve probably spent $3,500 or so on meds the past 7 years. Pre-tax fund because, again, I won the insurance lottery.

There are lots of other things too. I never had much facial hair, and it’s nice and dark and I have fair skin, so I only had to pay for several sessions of someone shooting my face with lasers. Is that required? No, but I am guessing you’d have a hard time finding trans women who haven’t had at least some who transitioned after puberty, provided they can afford to, because facial hair is hella triggery for pretty much anyone I’ve met, though I’m sure some people care less than others. That can range wildly in price, but I would say it’s probably another $2,000 that I spent. And if you are going to have GRS, at least the doctor I went through wanted me to get some laser on my groin area as well. Again, probably spending $3,000-4,000 on that all told by the time it’s all said and done. At least. And while you might not care that much, if you are going through the traditional gatekeeping process (its own bullshit topic for another day), your doctor might. Hopefully that is getting better, but there’s a certain amount of performative femininity required when dealing with people like that. And sure, it seems stupid, but if you weren’t getting laser, they might wonder if you really want to be yourself. Which, again, is ridiculous, but these are the kind of people you’re dealing with and they wield an outsize influence on your life.

And of course, as a trans woman, welcome to the higher incidental cost of everyone giving a fuck about how you look. And with the trans component, welcome to the additional balance of trying to be yourself in a world where many might say too much femininity is just buying into toxic standards for women and not enough is you not trying hard enough as a woman. If they think of you as a woman at all. This is ignoring, of course, that maybe you wanted to do these things for a long time, but you felt constrained by the narrow norms of being socialized male in our society. There are still higher incidental expenses for women in terms of personal care. We can want that to get better and change and still acknowledge that it exists. Plus it’s an exciting time of trying to do all these things that you may have felt you couldn’t do openly before. I certainly spend more on my personal grooming now than I did before, because I want to. No one is making me. My hair doesn’t stay this color on its own, though. This is much harder to put a price on, because much of it just stems from how much more I care about how I look now because I finally look like me and that’s worth spending money on. Still, that cost is there to a degree.

By now, hopefully you are beginning to see how paradoxically interconnected it is. It helps to have a good job and good insurance, but it can be hard to get a job when your legal documentation doesn’t match your actual identity. And it can be hard to update that legal documentation without a job. You may have to out yourself in the process of employment because of that, or in an attempt to determine whether or not you will get sufficient medical coverage, even if you have no desire to be out to your employer. And even if you have a decent job at the start of actually transitioning, who knows what might happen? Financially speaking, there’s a good chance your wages will stagnate or go down even if you are the exact same employee you were before. You might even be better now that you can bring your authentic self to work, but that’s no guarantee you won’t find yourself on the way out soon enough. And there could be whole new problems that come up and make the job untenable. Then what? How much is enough? How do we justify that to ourselves? What bargains are you going to make to be yourself after a life of already making lots of bargains to not be yourself? It sure is satisfying to say none, but that is a difficult path.

Can you put a cost on truly being yourself? No, but is there a cost? Definitely. Not just in the money that you have to spend, but in how society will treat you. Even in my life where things have worked out well, it’s hard not to wonder if my male coworkers doing the same job as me are making much more (probably), if they have a better chance to move up to whatever’s next (also probably). I am sure they feel more comfortable taking chances. I do now, but there was definitely a time when I couldn’t afford to, lest my insurance change. Which is still a privilege, of course. That I have good coverage at all puts me in a different category. But it’s still a tenuous relationship. Luckily I haven’t felt stuck at a bad job because of it. But since that isn’t a given, that was a cost I had to keep in mind. It is better than having nothing at all. And we should address that as a society. But you can see how it affects how you think of things, no? Better doesn’t mean it’s as good as it should be if we’re talking overall goals. There are more important people to reach first than me. But like most things in life, it’s not a simple linear progression. We can simultaneously be working to make this better, but we should keep in mind that circumstances are statistically much worse when factoring in race, class, education.  Hell, I experience it because I’m a woman and our systems are much better equipped to handle binary than non-binary folks. I may be trans, but I still experience a lot of privilege because of who I am in other ways. Lots of folks can’t just sit down and tick off the costs they’ve paid for stuff like this because they don’t have the money, insurance, and access or the systems aren’t set up for them in the first place and we aren’t doing enough to ensure that they enjoy those things.

Soon, I’ll have paid the last simple, pecuniary costs of my transition. Really, I already have in that things like new IDs and passports are incidental costs we all pay going forward as we get older. I never feel like I’m done in the sense that I’m always trying to be more me, and I already largely feel I closed that initial chapter years ago. This is more of an epilogue or an afterward. One last thing to do before a checklist I laid out many years ago is done, really, truly finished. Even if I thought I could, it’s hard to put a number on it, but it’s easy to see the costs are too high.

 
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