Although most people see me and read me as male now, that has not always been the case. When I was growing up everyone assumed I was a girl, and for a long time I lived my life accepting everyone else’s assumption as fact and living in accordance with it. My freshman year in college was the first time I read about a trans-man’s experience, and it resonated deeply with my own feelings and experiences. It was the first time I knew that there were other people like me out there and that someone else felt like this too. It was the first time I didn’t feel alone. Even as the euphoria of this epiphany faded I knew that transition would not be an easy thing to do. In fact it was a seemingly impossible and terrifying thing to do.
Well several years later it turns out not to be an impossible thing to do, but it is terrifying and difficult at times, but absolutely worth it. It was four long years after I realized I was transgender that I had finally come out and managed to navigate the medical establishment in order to begin medically transitioning. I started taking testosterone and that gradually changed my appearance; my voice dropped, my face shape changed, I put on muscle especially on the shoulders, and eventually started getting facial hair. It’s rather awkward to go through puberty at twenty-three. Within a year of starting testosterone I was pretty consistently being read as male by people who hadn’t known me previously. But that was just the physical process. It was a really fascinating experience experiencing puberty a second time and as an adult no less. I was and am fascinated by the way gender, as a social system, and the hormonal balance of the body shapes behavior and changed the way I perceived and interacted with the world. Plus watching how peoples reactions changed as my appearance changed was incredibly informative.
So I identify as transgender, and I feel like it informs a lot of the things I do. It is a defining
theme that I have carried through my life, but it has come with its difficulties. The personal discomfort, the real physical pain, and the social consequences do take their toll. I have people question me, and question my friends behind my back, with inappropriate
questions about what I ‘really’ am or what my ‘junk’ looks like. I am sometimes afraid to use the bathroom at public places because I am afraid of people reactions if they don’t perceive me to be using the ‘right’ bathroom, or know that I am transgender. I routinely have to wait hours to find a safe restroom even when public restrooms are available at any time for everyone else. I will have to pay medical bills for the rest of my life, of which insurance is likely to exclude. I can’t live my life as who I am without binding my chest, but binding is painful and can be damaging over long periods of time. I have bound my chest pretty nearly all day everyday for the last four years. No I don’t want to go for a run, and no I don’t want to take the stairs, I can’t breath. Yet the medical surgery that could relieve my physical pain and emotional dysphoria is considered optional and cosmetic by insurance companies. To top it all off many medical professionals are unfamiliar with transgender health care and wary of dealing with trans people even with medical issues that are actually unrelated to being transgender.
In order to access gendered resources, college housing for example, it frequently requires my legal gender marker to match my identity. However some states do not even let you change the gender marker at all, and many states have onerous processes and require surgeries and doctors certifications in order to change it. This requires the same medical treatment mentioned before which is both very expensive and frequently excluded under health insurance. I am terrified of being pulled over or carded because my ID doesn’t match who I am and that can attract scrutiny. No matter who I’m with or where I am I can never be sure of someone’s reaction if they find out that I’m trans which could put me in potentially dangerous situations. Then there is a never-ending list of smaller difficulties of never fitting into the gender binary quite right, from job applications to sports teams to clothing. Sometimes all this makes me really cranky. Yet on average I’m a happier person and it is less stress to deal with all of these problems than to live life as someone I’m not.
Yet I know that I have had a relatively easy time of it. Many transgender people face far worse consequences. Many transgender women, especially women of color, are murdered in the United States every year. Many trans people face serious harassment campaigns and attacks. People are fired from their jobs for being transgender. Kids are kicked out of their homes for being transgender. Teenagers just coming into their own are so beat down, ostracized, and bullied that they cannot go on and find suicide to be their only escape. There is so much pressure to conform to gender norms that it can and does kill people.
When I stepped outside the standard expectations it gave me a chance to evaluate the social sphere I’ve been so immersed in my entire life from a new outsider’s experience. It has expanded my awareness of social problems beyond just my own. I do not think I would care as much about diversity, inclusion, advocacy, and community development as I do if I was not so potently aware of the struggle when you go against the norm. I can only hope that as people become more aware of these issues we can work towards reducing the stigma and violence people experience. I hope that humanizing these experiences will bring a better understanding and empathy into the public mind.