If you ever want to challenge yourself to see how you handle scrutiny and judgment, come out as trans. Trust me, it will change your life, whether you’re ready for it or not. 😉
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve learned a lot about myself, about society, and about things I’ve taken for granted.
Here are five of them.
1. The things I lost, I can live without
A lot of my relationships changed when I came out. Maybe I’ll talk more about which relationships and how in the future. But suffice it to say, I’ve lost a lot. There are people who I thought loved me that I might never be able to even speak to again.
There’s a lot of pain that comes with this loss, but really, I’m just learning what was always true.
A lot of the love and respect some people gave me was conditional. It existed on the condition that I be a person that I never was. When it became clear I wasn’t that, the love and respect went away.
That love and respect was meaningless, because it was never for me. It was for a construct of me that never existed.
Granted, I’m lucky. I lost a lot of fake love and respect, but was able to maintain enough real love and respect that I’m still able to meet my daily needs. This wouldn’t have been the case for me earlier in my life, because the people I depended on were bigoted against trans people. If I tried to tell any of them I was trans, things would not have gone well for me.
It’s important to note that even though having a hidden identity sucks, and fake love and respect are a far cry from the real thing, sometimes it’s the only choice for some trans folks. Not all of us are safe to come out, because losing this kind of love and respect—even though it’s not real—often involves losing the ability to sustain the resources needed for survival. Sometimes fake love and respect are necessary until you can find enough of the real thing to keep you going. And you don’t always know what you have and what you don’t until it gets put to the test.
I put it to the test, and good news: I’m still here. I took a gamble, and I won. And what I lost, I’m better off without.
2. Gender policing is impossible to escape
Our entire social infrastructure is built around enforcing gender norms. Don’t believe me? Try living openly as a nonbinary person. Going against binary gender rules means interacting with humans is a constant battle to maintain your sanity. You’re not always up against acts of violence or transphobia (though you deal with that, too). The more pervasive problem is that your identity is constantly being treated like it’s not real or that there’s something wrong with it. You don’t get to be “normal.” You’re an exception to every rule. And that gets really, really old.
It’s quite the range of experiences. Take, for example, how whenever I travel, TSA is guaranteed to feel me up. The scanners in airports are programmed on a binary gender system, and apparently not having certain parts under my clothes makes me a likely threat to public safety. Knowing you’re going to be asked in public about your genitals by somebody whose job is to make sure terrorists don’t get on airplanes can have a strange effect on your state of mind—especially when combined with everything else.
Like how the vast majority of bathrooms are binary-gendered, and that makes peeing an insanely awkward experience. (I almost got pepper sprayed one time just while washing my hands in the women’s room. Now I default to the men’s room, which can be weird for other reasons.)
There’s also just the general experience of—regardless of how outspoken I am about my lack of gender—constantly being labeled with a gender that I don’t have.
And don’t even get me started on legal documentation.
It takes a really strong will and a strong sense of self to not let this identity policing wear me down, manipulate me into pretending to be someone else, fill me with shame, or make me feel like I’m crazy.
I’ll probably be fighting gender policing for the rest of my life.
I’m supposed to be somebody else, and the world wants me to know it. Well, too bad, world. I’m me. You’re going to have to get used to it.
3. Trans people can be transphobic, too
Other trans people have been a huge source of strength and encouragement to me over the last year. I’ve connected with an incredible community of inspiring folks all over the world—and I’ve learned a lot about how important it is that we have each others’ backs.
On the other hand, I’ve been hurt by some surprising interactions with trans people who are not on the side of their trans siblings.
It’s been eye-opening to learn about a disturbing dynamic that can happen when you’re part of a marginalized community. Some people fall prey to a temptation to appeal to the majority at the expense of other marginalized people—essentially betraying people like them to gain an advantage with people who have more privilege.
I’ve had a lot of interactions with trans people who are not only dismissive of me and other trans people, but downright scornful. There’s eye-rolling, slandering, and turning up the nose at people who aren’t trans in “the right ways,” or who are being unfairly written off as whiny, crazy, or attention-seeking. It’s almost like a full-on smear campaign full of backstabbing and bigotry that other trans people get swept up in as an attempt to get themselves taken more seriously. And often nonbinary folks like me are the ones who take the hit, because our identities are the hardest to explain.
There’s a risk of being thrown under the bus instead of supported by other trans people, and I’ve learned this the hard way.
4. The people who admit to not understanding tend to understand the most
Most of the people in my life are cisgender. For many of them, I’m the only transgender person they know. (Or, at least, the only transgender person they know who openly talks about being transgender.)
This means that the stuff I deal with is quite foreign to most of them.
A lot of people approach this by trying to prove to me how much they already understand about what my life is like. Often they’ll try to give me solutions for my problems—and it tends to be a huge barrier to communication and friendship. Because guaranteed, they oversimplify and miss the entire picture.
On the other hand, some people approach me with attentiveness and humility, admitting they don’t relate to my experience. They don’t try to coach me on how to deal with issues they don’t understand. These tend to be the most supportive people, regardless of their background or knowledge.
Often people seem to think that when they’re around me, their knowledge and “wokeness” is being put to the test, but that’s not the case. I’m just a human being who’s dealing with my own frustrations, just like everybody else—it’s just that a lot of the problems I’m dealing with have been culturally taboo to even talk about for generations. So understanding my struggles tends to take a lot of re-contextualizing, and not taking assumptions for granted.
I’m not scrutinizing how “with it”anybody is. Like everyone, I just want to spend time around people who don’t fundamentally misunderstand me at every turn.
The people who tend to understand me the most come in all forms with all kinds of backgrounds. But the thing they all have in common is a willingness to listen, and to admit that they don’t already get what my life is like.
5. Everyone struggles to belong
While not everyone experiences being trans, being trans has given me a powerful vantage point into a universal aspect of the human experience: the struggle to belong.
My entire life, my personhood has been in conflict with the cultural ideas I’ve been surrounded with of what is required for belonging. This conflict has led me to a choice: either erase myself and conform, or seek belonging in new, uncharted territory. You already know which of these I ended up choosing.
I’ve come to understand that regardless of gender, race, wealth, or orientation, everyone deals with this conflict—just to varying degrees of extremity, and with varying stakes.
We have a problem with belonging in this world, and we need to fix it.
I consider it an honor that my experiences have led me to such a deep understanding of this universal struggle, and I’m confident that the knowledge I’ve gained will one day be worth the price I’ve had to pay for it.