I wouldn’t tell her, “you think you’re a boy, but you grow up to be a woman.”
I remember my first and, so far, only Against Me! concert. It was in Montreal, and the day got a rough start when I narrowly missed my train and had to rebook for the next one, taking six hours out of the time I could spend with my girlfriend and a mutual friend in the city before the show. Punk rock isn’t a genre that has held much appeal for me in the past, but knowing that Against Me!’s frontwoman, Laura Jane Grace, was transgender and that the band was among my girlfriend’s favorites inclined me to give it a chance. It was also hard to pass up a trip to Montreal, even if it ultimately did not involve much sightseeing between my arrival and the show.
For the handful of people in my life who do not know, I recently had facial feminization surgery (FFS) and breast augmentation (BA) in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, provided by the expert hands of Dr. Lázaro Cárdenas Camarena. This adventure was the culmination of years of careful saving and exhaustive research and represents the last significant transition-related body modification I anticipate ever pursuing. As I heal from this sizable achievement, I also reflect on it.
It was ordinary people who told me my soul would burn when I told them I am an atheist.
It was ordinary people who kept me from recognizing my gender until my 20s.
It was ordinary people who promoted a level of homework that devoured my free time for most of high school.
It was ordinary people who saw everything about me that was not useful to them and demanded that it change.
It was ordinary people who kept me feeling excluded, misunderstood, and feared until I was an adult, and sometimes still.
It was ordinary people who lied to me for fun and jeered at me for believing them.
It was ordinary people who made the world too bright, too loud, too messy, too much, and told me I was wrong for noticing.
It was ordinary people who made it so that, when I am frustrated or scared enough, I stop feeling my hands.
It’s one of the last retreats and first rejoinders of people whose support of the transgender community isn’t rock-solid. It’s the base of operations of people who don’t oppose our existence but nevertheless find us grotesque and confusing. It’s tiresome, it’s exhausting, and it makes more of us more likely to date each other than our shared experiences and social spaces already did. We have to warn each other that our relationships might end if we transition, partly because of this specter.
The argument from “genital preference” simply will not go away, and that’s because its framing is tangled and often dishonest.
As a trans lesbian who herself finds one genital configuration more aesthetically and sexually desirable than the other, I come at this topic from a distinct perspective. And the most important thing I have to offer here is this point:
It is not the preference that is a problem, it’s how that leads a person to treat their prospective partners.
When I told my family and my oldest friends that I had recognized myself as a transgender woman and would be pursuing transition, I was 27. Every one of them told me it was far too sudden and that I needed to spend a lot longer thinking about my life before committing to it. Some of them accused people close to me of somehow coercing or corrupting me into my new gender. Most of them tried to convince me that I was actually a dyed-in-the-wool ultra-masculine man’s man, bizarre and tragicomic against my small-framed bookish nerdiness and the facts of what was actually happening. They saw a “sudden” decision and an equally sudden dive into dresses, makeup, long hair, and pretty shoes, because they didn’t see who I had been and what I had been doing and thinking privately for the previous 27 years.
So when I heard that a “researcher” named Lisa Littman had published a widely-criticized “scientific study” proposing that some trans children aren’t “really” trans, and instead coerced by “social contagion” into imagining that they’re trans in a phenomena she deceitfully called “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” I saw her angle immediately.
I haven’t always had the healthiest relationship with exercise. Truth be told, exercise verged on self-harm for me for a long time, and it took some major personal revelations for me to see it. Continue reading “Exercising While Trans, Or How I Learned To Stop Lifting and Love Myself”
“Thank you,” I told them. “Thank you for being so much better than an occasional phone call asking if I’ve given up yet.”
Zoë Michelle Knox and Amanda Jetté Knox were already famous in Canada for the improbable beauty of their journey when I met them. They were the family that had gone from the picture of white suburban normalcy to a beacon of queer hope, as father and son rediscovered themselves as wife and daughter, made public by Amanda’s blog and Internet presence, and they had been all over Canada’s magazines and web sites. The fact that they were local meant that my friends and extended circles were particularly aware of these lovely people, and made sure I heard when their speaking tour brought them to an auditorium within not-too-forbidding walking distance of my home. They spoke about Amanda’s then-nascent book, Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family, about trans issues in general, about how society fails us and how people can make sure the transgender family members among them feel loved, supported, and cared for despite widespread social disapproval and even violence.
“This is what it means to be a girl, isn’t it? To never feel like enough.”
I wrote these words as one of the sadder moments in “The Prom Pine,” a short story whose fanfiction version you can read here. (The non-fanfiction version, an extended narrative meditation on dissociation and its uses, will appear in a future edition of Spoon Knife.) It’s true that this world imposes that pressure on women in general, with every ad for makeup, diet, clothing, exercise, and more promising relief from that anhedonic treadmill, but trans women face a special pressure here. The outside world doles out validation in proportion to our efforts to conform to cisfeminine expectations, and we often start from difficult positions, testosterone poisoning setting us back before we even begin. It takes eons of soul-searching to find the lines between gender dysphoria, social conditioning, and everything else. I’ve found a whole other line, and it weighs on me now.
Transformation and exchange are two of the most thematically interesting ways to explore gender and relationships in fiction. This isn’t a new idea, with the story of Tiresias providing an example from Greek antiquity. Such stories can range from ignorant and banal to nuanced and powerful. As a trans woman, I have long held a fascination with them, and they ultimately helped me come to understand what I wanted from my body and my life. “Striking Vipers,” the first episode of season 5 of Black Mirror, is neither of these, instead being a tragic, wasteful misfire that perhaps handles some of its other themes better than this one.