Transgender: The Eternal Cycle of Pretending

mask

How good of an impression can you do of yourself?

Go on and try. See how good of a you, you can do. Think you can make it convincing? You probably think I’m talking crazy, right? You think there’s no such thing as doing an impression of yourself. After all, if you’re doing anything, it’s as yourself, right? Well, I can do one, and after years of practice I’d say I’m getting pretty good at it. As a transgender woman, I do an impression of myself every time I interact with someone. It’s an exhausting and mentally taxing thing to maintain, but for transgender women it can be a necessity.

This probably sound counter-intuitive to the pro-trans arguments you’ve heard before. But Faith, I thought the whole point of coming out as transgender is to not be pretending to be someone else? Well, that’s not what I said. I spent years pretending to be some guy named Joe. What no one wants to talk about is how coming out of the closet doesn’t mean you stop pretending, just that the way you have to pretend changes.

Let me explain. If I’ve ever talked to you on the street or on the phone, you heard me doing an impression of my own voice. See, unless I’m home alone or it’s just me and my partner, I don’t talk without first tightening my throat and putting extra air behind the words to raise the pitch of my voice. I’ve gotten really good at it over the years, to the point where it doesn’t take nearly as much physical and mental effort as it used to. But it’s still a conscious step I have to take between thought and speech. Here’s the point I’m trying to make with that: the voice I’m producing when I take those steps is my voice (or at least as close to it as I’m capable of). The much deeper, baritone-range voice that naturally comes out of my throat isn’t my voice. I don’t identify with it. It sounds foreign to me. That’s what dysphoria is all about: what you see in the mirror or hear when you speak doesn’t match your identity.

What’s the point I’m making in all this? Well, just imagine going through your entire day every day consciously doing a voice that doesn’t naturally come out of your throat. That can seriously mess you up, and it’s something I always think about when some troll on the internet posts juvenile, anti-trans statements like “you can’t change biology”, or “you’ll always physically be a man.” Their 4th grade understanding of biology and psychology aside, they’re somewhat right. Nothing is ever going to change my chromosomes. If I want to keep producing a voice that matches my identity I’ll have to consciously make the effort each time.

The entirety of the transgender experience is about pretending; you’re either pretending to be something you’re not on the inside or trying to look like something you are on the outside. Take makeup for example. Ask just about any trans woman and she’ll tell you that makeup is more than just a fun accent to your look, its a camouflage necessary for survival. This can be especially true if you’ve not been able to get your facial hair removed. I still remember how freeing it was to reach a point where I felt comfortable going out without makeup again. When I first transitioned, I did full-face makeup no matter where I was going or what I was doing (and let me tell you, that gets expensive!). It took a lot of time and energy, but I didn’t have a choice. Makeup is something our society codes as feminine, so having it all over your face gives you one more layer of protection between you and some transphobe being able to tell you’re not cisgender.

It’s not just makeup either. I know a lot of cis women who like to wear jeans and a hoodie when they run errands or are just hanging out with friends. Sounds simple, right? Not when you’re transgender. Androgyny can be terrifying when you’re trans (unless you don’t identify as a binary gender in which case it’s awesome). It means pulling back from the extremes of gender expression and making yourself more susceptible to being misgendered. Even if I just wear jeans and a t-shirt when going out, I make sure the shirt is tight enough to show what little breast growth I’ve managed thanks to the hormones I take. Boobies mean female. Boobies mean I get called ma’am by strangers and can safely use the bathroom. Boobies mean no one thinks I’m a man.

These are all just aesthetic choices made before I leave the house, but they all mean something much deeper when you’re transgender. I love girls clothes and makeup, but it takes some of the fun away when they move from indulged interest to survival necessity. What about days I would just like to wear a hoodie and no makeup? If I’m getting dressed up when I don’t feel like it, aren’t I still, in some way, living as someone I’m not? And remember, this is just talking about how other people see me; we haven’t scratched how it affects me personally. I still have some of my old boys clothes buried deep in my closet (which makes for an apt metaphor: i.e. it’s HIS turn to hide back there). The very thought of ever putting them on terrifies me. It’s not that I think it will take my identity away, but that it will keep me from seeing myself as a woman in the mirror. Androgynous clothing messes with my dysphoria enough, so putting on on actual “boy” clothes would be almost catastrophic for my mental state. I’ve worked very hard on my appearance, and each time I look in the mirror I see more of Faith and less of Joe. Between hormones, laser hair removal, diet, and exercise, I’ve spent months crafting my body to as close a representation of my inner self as I can. But the confidence I’ve built as a result is fragile, and I worry that wearing or doing anything masculine will destroy it.

Here’s the point I’m making in all of that: I don’t hate boy’s clothes. In fact, now that I’m not forced to wear them all the time, I’ve grown a new appreciation for some of them. There are times I think it would be fun to put on a shirt and tie again. Does that make me not transgender? No. Does that make me less of a woman? Hell no. There are plenty of cisgender women out there who like to wear boy clothes sometimes, be they formal or casual. It doesn’t take away from their identity and it doesn’t take away from mine. My problem is this: if I put on a suit and look in the mirror, will I see a woman wearing it or a man? That’s what scares me. That’s what keeps those clothes at the back of the closet. That’s what makes me keep “pretending”.

I don’t have a general poignant statement to make in all of this. Sometimes this blog is just a space for me to get my feelings out of my own head. If you’re trans and know what these feelings are like, it can be nice to hear someone else speak to the same experiences. If you’re cis, I hope this gives you at least a little insight into what it’s like to have dysphoria. Strictly speaking, pretending never goes away when you’re transgender, just the manner in which you pretend changes. I’d much rather change my outside to match my inside than go on acting like I’m really the boy the world always saw me as, but that doesn’t make it easy. That doesn’t take away the constant effort it takes to maintain that image.

So, if you open your mouth to speak and hear your own voice come out, congratulations. Cherish the synchronization between mind and body you’ve been blessed with. When you look in the mirror and see yourself, enjoy it. If you’ve never once had to wonder if the stranger you’re talking to is seeing you for you and not the person you’re trying to convince them you’re not, I envy you.

Transgender Athletes and Unfair Advantages

6358622597704370071608988323_44776411-cached

I usually try to stay somewhat lighthearted in my posts. There’s a certain flavor of snarky charm that I like bringing to my writing. But writing style can often change with mood and I’ve spent the last two days arguing with TERFs (Transgender Exclusionary Radical Feminists) online. Yes, I know…I know…rule one of the internet is don’t read the comments. But I was finding their hateful rhetoric in a space I never expected it to be so prominent: the Facebook page for Equality House. If you ever needed proof that the transgender community isn’t always welcome in the gay and lesbian community, take an eye-opening stroll over there (I can’t even begin to throw up enough trigger warnings for that so PLEASE do so at your own risk).

The TERFs being particularly vocal were adamant that I take the time to debunk any claims they made about transgender women eroding women-only safe spaces (HA!), and taking away women’s rights (HA HA!), but they weren’t posting any real backup to their claims either so I didn’t see the need to do it myself (not to mention I don’t argue civilly with anyone who disrespects my gender and tries to un-person me). However, there was one topic where they did post articles backing up their claim: the notion of transgender women having an unfair advantage when competing in women-only sports. I’ll admit that one actually got my brain turning a little bit. Regardless I wasn’t going to get into an actual debate with a TERF, but the notion of transgender athletes does come up a lot and I’ve rarely weighed in on it. I’ve seen many of the stories she shared before, but they all have the same underlying theme: transgender women have bodies build in large by testosterone and thus have an unfair competitive advantage. Hate-filled radical feminists aside, I did want to share my thoughts on this matter.

There’s been plenty of chatter on both sides of this one. Is it fair to cis women to let trans women compete with them? Is it fair to force trans women to compete with cis men because sports is all about body type and physical ability? My stance on the matter might surprise you in multiple ways. On the subject of fairness, no, it isn’t fair to cis women to compete against trans women. Though HRT (hormone replacement therapy)  can deplete muscle mass in trans females, it isn’t always to the extent that their muscle mass would match that of a typical cisgender woman. Couple that with the diet and workout routine typically found with serious athletes and you’ve got a scenario where one competitor does have an unfair advantage over the other.

Anyone sharpening their pitchforks yet? I can hear the crackling of torch flames already. Faith, how can you say this?! You’ve always been an advocate for transgender women to have access to all female-only spaces! You’ve betrayed us all! If this is you, simmer down. I only said there was an unfair advantage. I never said such an advantage should disqualify transgender women from competing with other women. I firmly, 100% believe all transgender athletes should compete with others who share a similar gender identity. How do I marry these two seemingly opposing viewpoints? How do I justify advocating for trans women to enjoy the unfair advantage they have in sports? Simple…

I don’t care.

That’s seriously my big reveal. I unabashedly do not give a damn. Transgender women should be allowed to compete with cis women and enjoy any advantage that gives them. Why? Because it’s beyond ridiculous that transgender people have to keep justifying their existence by figuring out how we can insert ourselves into a society that was built assuming we didn’t exist. You say trans women don’t fit into the sports structure? I say make a new structure. Change sports entirely to reflect a gender diverse population. Have all sports be segregated solely on body type regardless of gender. If a cisgender man and woman are both about 6 feet tall and weigh between 180 and 200 pounds, put them in the same sport together. I don’t care what it is; put them together.

My clash with the TERFs yesterday showed me just how sick and tired I am of having to constantly figure out how I get to exist. And I’m not going to do it anymore. Transgender people have always existed. We have cultural, archaeological, and anthropological evidence to prove that. For as long as there have been socially defined notions of gender, there have been those who didn’t fit the mold. Other cultures shaped themselves to incorporate us, but western culture has largely tackled this by labeling us freaks and mentally ill. We’ve been shamed into staying hidden, into playing along with whatever roll we were handed. It’s led to severe depression and suicide time and time again, but that didn’t matter because it all happened in the background as the world kept going with the assumption everything was working just fine. The system works, and if it doesn’t work then that part is kept behind the curtain.

I’m not going to do it anymore. For as long as there are women-only spaces I will demand access to them. Don’t like that? Well, let’s change the system to something that recognized both that I exist and that I’m equal. Is that a lot of work? You bet your ass it is. Do I care? Not one bit. Any cultural aspect that can’t support the existence of transgender people should be completely dismantled and then rebuilt to include our existence. If we’re not willing to do that, then I will continue to do what makes me most comfortable and let society deal with however that makes them feel.

I’m done trying to find a spot on the puzzle where my piece fits. I will put my piece where I damn well please, no matter what corners I have to cut out of that hole to make it happen. My happiness is valid. My identity hurts absolutely no one. My safety and health are more important than making sure you’re not slightly inconvenienced. If that’s not fair, come to the table and lets’ rebuild in a way that respects both of us. But until that day, I will no longer lessen myself for your comfort.

So let the transgender women compete. Let them enjoy any advantage that gives them. I promise you, they’ve overcome enough just to get to that spot that they’ve earned it. I personally long for a day where notions of gender segregation are torn down, but I know I’ll never see such a world in my lifetime. So, game on!

How Chester Bennington Set Me Free

chesterbennington

Oh boy…

I’m going to go ahead and state up front that this post will be extremely personal. If you’re looking for grand thoughts on the state of our culture or some shared experience among many people then you’ve come to the wrong place. Today’s post is more like a diary entry. Of course, it’s also a memorial to one of the most influential artists of my generation.

Yesterday afternoon I found out that Chester Bennington, front man for the band Linkin Park, had been found dead of a suicide. There have been an alarming number of these artist deaths lately and a chilling number have died by their own hand. I’ll be honest that most haven’t really affected me up until now. I was never a big Sound Garden or Audioslave fan so the passing of Chris Cornell didn’t register all that much with me. But Chester? Chester’s death hit me like a truck. I’ve never been one to obsess with music. Me even memorizing the names of any band members is kind of rare. Still, music has been a big influence on me and Linkin Park especially helped to shape me into the woman I am today.

I consider myself to be a pretty open book. There’s not much about my life I’m uncomfortable sharing, but diving into this subject is making even me feel kind of vulnerable.  Linkin Park wasn’t the most influential band on my life, but it was one of the earliest and has stuck around for me longer than most. To really drive home how Bennington’s lyrics helped to define me, I need to go back years before Linkin Park was even a thing.

I have no delusions about the fact that I had a pretty privileged childhood. I had food, clothing, and parents who loved me and loved each other. We could afford to take vacations, I got new toys for Christmas, and we basically wanted for nothing or very little. Still, if the suicides of Bennington, Cornell, Cobain, Robin Williams, and other celebrities proves anything, it’s that inner demons don’t give a damn what your outside situation looks like. And I’ve always had some inner demons.

Throughout my life, by biggest obstacle has been myself. Self-doubt has always been something that stuck with me. “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not doing this right,” “I don’t belong here,” “everyone has it figured out but me,” these are the kinds of thoughts that are always swimming around in my head. These notions  made me timid about asserting control over my own existence, and thus I allowed others to do it for me. I was a model kid growing up; never in trouble and always doing what I was told. That might sound good, but it was because I never felt comfortable being defiant. My parent’s wishes shaped me at home. My bully’s aggressions shaped me at school. I was what people wanted me to be, because that was safe. If I acted as I was told, I wouldn’t disturb all the better, more confident people who knew what they were doing and were always right.

I know this sounds bleak, but it’s really how my mind has always worked. I remember in grade school the other kids in my class were listening to Metallica, Green Day, Rage Against the Machine, Manson, and other early alt-rock/metal bands. When I caught little snippets of their music, I liked what I heard. Still, I stayed away from those bands because I knew they “weren’t appropriate” (no joke, I was really this jaded as a kid; my brain was a stricter parent than my real parents ever were). Because of this I really just didn’t listen to a lot of music back then. The sound of the “wholesome” bands just didn’t really register with me, but the heavier stuff was for “bad” kids and that would make me a “bad” kid, too.

This was my norm all the way into and through most of high school. By that point I had a girlfriend who abused me emotionally which really ramped up my self-doubt and inner numbness. This was a big reason I never understood my gender identity back then; I didn’t even find myself as a person, let alone a gender. I was coasting, existing however others wanted me to. I was more shell than person. My senior year our student government made a mix CD of what they considered songs that defined our graduating year and distributed a copy to all of the seniors. It was mostly a bunch of pop songs that I honestly can’t recall anymore, but one track on the disk was In The End by Linkin Park.

I kept that CD probably a lot longer than most anyone else in my class, and it was just for that song. I loved it. I loved the driving guitar chords. I loved the techno-futuristic background beats. But most of all, I loved Mike’s hard-hitting verses and Chester’s soaring, angst-driven chorus. It spoke to me on a level no other music had. It wasn’t filtered. It wasn’t wholesome. It didn’t spin me a bunch of bullshit about how everything was going to be okay. The truth was right there in the chorus: in the end, it doesn’t even matter. Chester taught me it was okay to defy, okay to resist. His lyrics carried those same feelings of self-doubt, hopelessness, and incompatibility with the rest of the world that plagued me. Linkin Park became my outlet for those feelings, my release valve where I could finally start to face them.

When Meteora was released, all of this was magnified. I don’t think any song in history has ever touched me at my core like Numb did. It was everything to me. It was my agonizing slog through existence, feeling like nothing I did would ever be good enough. It was my angst over the girlfriend I was still with even though I was miserable because I didn’t have the self-confidence to break up with her. It was the knowledge that I was being used but being too cowardly to do something about it. Numb was my anthem, and in many ways still is to this day.

The point is that Linkin Park finally set me on the path of daring to question. For the first time in my whole life, I questioned my God, I questioned my sexuality, I questioned my gender, I questioned where the line really was between right and wrong, I questioned the unshakable rightness of my parents, I questioned my authority figures, and most of all, I questioned my own self-doubt. In my late 20’s and early 30’s I went back and listened to all of the music I’d deprived myself of when I was a kid. So many anthems that could have helped me sooner; so many lyrics that could have touched my soul. I wish now that I’d had it then, but if not for Chester and the rest of Linkin Park, I may never have had it at all.

So, thank you, Chester Bennington. Thank you for setting me free. Thank you for breaking my shell and teaching me it was okay to define myself however I wanted to. Thank you for the outlet you provided for my anger, confusion, and doubt. Thank you for the lyrics that helped me make sense of it all. I can assure you, you’ve left behind many, many reasons to be missed.

Rest In Peace.

The Night I Enjoyed my Privilege

20170624_191614
Me with the lead singer of “A Light Divided”. They’re an awesome band out of NC and you should check them out.

I do a lot of activism work. Between keeping up this blog, running an adult transgender support group in my town, heading an LGBT podcast (and also planning another), speaking at events for EqualityNC, talking with legislators, and marching in protests, a good chunk of my not-work time is spent in the trenches, so to speak, of LGBT activism. It’s rewarding work, but it’s also mentally taxing. I’ve had multiple nights spent up with people, talking them down from suicide. I’ve heard stories from transgender people in my group about losing everything. My messages have been flooded with requests for help, advice, or just a shoulder to cry on.

It’s tough, but it’s rewarding. I like being able to help. Activism has kind of just become my life. You’ll usually always find me wearing my Trans* Pride bracelet or a rainbow pin, or something else to mark my place within and acceptance of the LGBT community. One thing I’ve talked about in previous blogs and in various speaking engagements is that trans people who live full time live as their authentic gender are ambassadors of our community. Just by existing out in the world we show people that we’re here and there’s nothing scary about us. Of course, many transgender people hold this ambassador role because there’s no other way to be out for them. This is where the notion of cis-passing comes into play. Cis-passing simply means that people can’t tell you’re trans just by looking at or listening to you. For many transgender people, this represents a transition goal (cards on the table: I’m one of those people). Whether it’s your goal or not though, cis-passing is an example of privilege within the transgender community.

Yes, passing is a privilege, and I say that as someone who has it. Early on in my transition it was a scary experience to go out, especially to work. My day was filled with customers doing double-takes, whispering after they passed me, name calling, laughing, etc. As hormones took their effect and laser hair removal took away the stubble shadow on my chin, those problems slowly died away. Today, even going to a public women’s room, which used to be utterly terrifying, has become a mundane routine. It’s a privilege I’ve acquired over time, and I think it’s important to always recognize it for what it is. I still wear my pride bracelet, even to work. I still try to be forward about my transgender status wherever it’s safe to do so because, for someone who passes, that ambassadorship is even more important. People who revile the transgender community often believe they will always be able to tell someone is transgender. They’ll often say they’ve never seen a trans person, not realizing they’ve probably met several and never knew it. I consider it an important responsibility of cis-passing transgender people to remain visible so they can further shape the misguided understandings of the general public.

Still, activism can be exhausting, both physically and mentally. I’ve had many sleepless nights, panic attacks, and bouts of severe depression just feeling the weight of it all upon me. Every person’s problems, every great injustice I can do nothing about, it all swims around in my head.  Everyone needs a break. Everyone needs to engage in self care. A few nights ago, I took such an opportunity. Some friends of mine in a band gave me free tickets to a big show they were playing in. On that same day, I was invited to a nearby pride event. Each event was taking place in cities about equal distance from where I live. It was simply a matter of choosing which thing to attend.

I went to the concert.

There was a pride event going on, and I chose not to go. I probably could have done some good there. I probably could have further helped the LGBT community by being there. But I chose not to. I invited a gal-friend to go to the concert with me and that’s what we did. What’s more, I made sure absolutely nothing about the way I looked that night telegraphed the fact that I’m transgender. I wore a sexy little corset top with jean shorts and knee-high boots. I had smokey eyes and blood-red lips. I wore no pride bracelets, no rainbows, no gender symbols. I’ve known for a few months that my transition has taken me to a place of cis-passing privilege, and that night I made the conscious choice to enjoy it.

The show was great. My ears were still ringing the next morning. My friend and I rocked out to bands we’d never heard before. We drank beers and margaritas. I even enjoyed a few flirty looks from guys as they passed me by. I went to a crowded bathroom without worrying about being called out. I made new friends who thought I was cis and I did nothing to make them think otherwise. I was completely stealth, and it was awesome.

People with privilege don’t like to talk about it because it makes them feel guilty. In a lot of ways, ignorance truly is bliss. People want to enjoy what they have without thinking about how other people don’t have it. Men don’t like to think about how much harder it is to succeed as a woman. White people don’t like to think about how America is a very different place for people of color. And cis-passing transgender people don’t want to think about all of their transgender siblings that never get to have a relaxing time out as their authentic selves. Guilt is a powerful emotion, and our minds are predisposed to fight it. This is why, so often, people lash out against things that remind them of their privilege by saying “I’ve done nothing wrong!”. And while that’s true, blame isn’t really the point of it. Privilege isn’t something you took, it’s something that was given to you unfairly. What’s more, it’s not something you can just give up. As long as society stays the way it is, your privilege is going to endure.

So what point am I trying to get at in all of this? Well, for me it’s been the question of weighing the need for self-care with the guilt of privilege. Self-care is vitally important. Just like how you’re supposed to put on your own oxygen mask on the plane before assisting others, you can’t help anybody until you first take care of your own needs. The problem is in knowing that there are many, many people who have the same needs as you but can’t overcome the social, economic, or cultural boundaries placed between them and the thing you can just reach out and take. Self-care is limited by lack of privilege. We take a quiet nap in our own beds knowing that the homeless freeze on park benches. We go out for a nice meal knowing the poor must beg for food. We go for a walk while others stay behind locked doors because they know their neighborhood isn’t safe. And, yes, we go for a fun night out with friends knowing others would be too afraid of being harassed in the same scenario.

But do you just stop? No. I don’t think that’s the answer. I don’t regret my stealthy night out. It helped to recenter me. It helped to calm my nerves and put me in a better place to rejoin the fight the next day. Privilege isn’t about being guilty or ashamed, it’s about being aware and sympathetic. If you have privilege, enjoy the things it offers you. Just don’t forget that they aren’t something you “earned”. Understand why you are one of the “haves” while others are “have-nots”. Come back from your experience refreshed, but also more aware of what you might take for granted. When privilege is enjoyed in the right mindset, it can help you to be more sympathetic towards those who don’t have it and that makes you even more equipped to make a positive difference.

So, About Cops at Pride…

chris

I’m going to be honest up front. This is one of those topics where you’re not going to find me coming down on one specific side by the end. Some dilemmas just don’t have a definitive right answer. We’re still in June and there have been a ton of pride events happening all over the country. Just a day or two ago was the big parade in New York City, which was publicly televised for the first time ever. That’s a big deal. Of course, pride events are becoming common enough now to where disagreements are breaking out as to how they should be handled. One of the big controversies I keep seeing is the presence of police officers in the parades themselves. I’m not talking about just monitoring the event, but actually riding on floats and marching with rainbow flags. A lot of people have cried foul over this while others tout it as a sign of progression for the cause of LGBT rights. I’ve always been a hater of the saying “the truth is somewhere in the middle” and this situation is no different. The truth here isn’t so much in the middle as it is formlessly drifting between both factions like a wandering spirit that no one can quite catch.

Rather than pick a side (which I promise I’m not going to do), I think it’s more important to highlight the reasons both sides are technically right and then maybe work out an ideal outcome that I sadly know isn’t going to happen but should happen because it would be to the betterment of all involved. First off, let’s look at the pro-police side of this. There are some people against the presence of police at pride events due to the history these two groups share. After all, the first pride was a riot started by transgender women of color (never forget that!) after cops raided the Stonewall Inn and started arresting people for the apparently heinous crime of wearing clothing society deemed unsuitable for them. It was the first public act of defiance where the LGBT community dared to challenge the notion of their supposed immorality. Never forget, pride was a march before it was a parade and that march was against authority figures, including police.

Fast forward to today. Saying police shouldn’t be in pride parades based solely on the history of violence since before Stonewall seems contrary to the point of the movement in the first place. Is the whole point of all this not to bring society to the understanding that we’re nothing to fear? I don’t understand what progression even looks like if those who once stood against us don’t now stand with us. I had the same criticism of the “Bernie-bros” during the last election who criticized Hillary Clinton for…somehow having the audacity to stand up for LGBT rights. Yes, Bernie Sanders was always pro LGBT while Clinton was against gay marriage for the earlier parts of her political career. But Clinton clearly came around. She received the message, understood it, and changed her stance to fight for equality. What’s more, she’s a person with enough power and clout to effect broad change in our favor. And we’re going to throw all this away because we, for some reason, have to hold onto old grudges in spite of our goals? Um…okay?

It’s the same thing with the police. Seeing police marching in the parade is a clear sign of support where before it didn’t exist. It sends a message to some of the LGBT community (more on that in a minute) that they don’t need to fear law enforcement. A cop dancing on a rainbow float is not a cop that’s going to harass you for being queer, or disrespect your gender identity. These are all positive aspects of having police participate in pride parades.

HOWEVER…

There’s an uncomfortable truth underlying this whole situation that not enough people are talking about. I want you to imagine something. Close your eyes and picture a pride parade. It doesn’t have to be any specific one you’ve been to, just a parade in general. Picture all of the people in the parade. What are they wearing? What are they doing? You have the image yet? Okay…how many people in your vision are white? I’m willing to wager quite a bit. I’m also willing to go double or nothing that the majority of the people you envisioned were cisgender men. This happens because gay, white, cisgender men have become the poster-children of the whole LGBT movement. There’s is the face of pride no matter where you go. Think about all those cops marching and dancing in the parade. Now, make it a black LGBT parade where the vast majority of those in attendance are African American. Do you still think the police are going to be there? When Black Lives Matter peacefully protests racial discrimination, they’re met with cops in riot gear. There the cops are firing rubber bullets and tear gas, not waving flags and dancing.

See, the LGBT community has become so visible and so vocal that, to its detriment, it’s become a microcosm of society as a whole. Even in a group of people brought together by their shared experience of cultural ostracising, a hierarchy of privilege has managed to establish itself that places white, cis men at the top. As far as our overall culture is concerned, this is nothing new. We have a dark history of celebrating cultural achievements for certain groups without recognizing that not all of its members gained the same victory. Case in point, we’re coming up soon on the supposed 100th anniversary of women earning the right to vote, but it would be many decades after the 19th amendment’s ratification that African American women would gain the same rights. The LGBT movement is seeing a very similar pattern emerge in its fight for equality. It’s hard to argue that it’s easier to be LGBT in modern society when transgender women of color are the most at-risk demographic of people in the nation when it comes to likelihood of being murdered. Being a gay white person and a gay black person are still grossly unequal experiences, and that’s horrifyingly apparent in the way police treat each.

This is where my favorite generation ever, the Millennials, are making a difference. It hasn’t been until this latest group of young adults entered the fray that we’ve seen the trend of ‘first white then everyone else’ get some real push back. Even though we’re seeing the progress represented by cops joining in pride events, Millennials aren’t letting that hide the fact that they’re really only there because the event is predominately white. For the first time…probably ever, there’s a generation that truly stands for the notion of ‘no one is free until we’re all free. That’s awesome, and long overdue if you ask me.

I mentioned at the beginning that I don’t have a definitive side of this to fall on, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an ideal solution. See, I want to keep seeing cops at pride events because I recognize the progress that represents. However, if the cops want to keep waving rainbows and dancing to Gaga, they need to earn it by showing up to the next BLM protest with something other than riot shields and clubs. They need to actually decry the obscene rate of police brutality against the African American population. There are a lot of us fighting for equality. If the cops want to join our party, they need to prove that they’re there for all of us.

Not All Bad-ass Women Are Created Equal

wonder-woman-xena-103772-640x320

Wonder Woman was a really good movie. I’m not a film critic so I won’t go into any nuanced details on that statement except to say it was by no means perfect but that didn’t change what it meant to me. Seeing the First Lady of Comics finally portrayed on the big screen in such a manner was cathartic to me both as a feminist and as a long-time nerd. When my wife and I left the theater, she turned to me, her face wet with tears and said, “where was that when I was 10 years old?”.

It’s a sentiment shared by many. Even though I was socialized as male from birth, seeing a big, female-led superhero movie also struck chords with me that moved me to tears. To so many women, especially very young women, this was a defining moment.

Leave it to the internet to try and ruin a good thing.

tumblr_oriswfprrx1r3nbzto1_500

Have you seen this meme? Do you agree with it? Do you share it? I’ve been seeing it, as well as a version shared with Xena and Ripley from Alien, all over Facebook lately. The message is simple: saying Wonder Woman is some kind of first for bad-ass women forgets the bad-ass women who came before her. On the surface, it’s a fine argument. It makes sense in the simplest of terms. But if you dig any further down than the surface, you find a lot of cultural factors that it just doesn’t hold up to.

If you’ve shared this meme before (or a similar one), I have some predictions about you. I predict that you’re older than your mid twenties and grew up as however you classify a nerd/geek from an early age. Am I right? Do I get a cookie? The reason I’m confident in that is that this mindset comes from the very specific set of circumstances that shapes such a worldview. I’m there too. I’m in my early 30’s. I’ve been a geek my whole life. I used to watch Xena and Buffy all the time. I loved those women and the power and confidence they portrayed. I’m sure you were the same way, and that like me you also see many of those same characteristics in Diana.

Here’s the problem though: we’re not 15 years old right now. See, for as much as we like to think we’re still young at heart and are in with the same pop culture stuff today’s teens are, it’s just inescapable that we have a dynamically different world experience from them. Even when we were growing up watching Xena and Buffy, we knew those things were never part of the mainstream culture. When we were teenagers, liking nerdy stuff meant getting your ass kicked. It meant being bullied, teased, harassed, and shunned. I’m not saying those things aren’t still there to some degree, but liking sci-fi/fantasy isn’t taboo anymore. The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies were some of the highest grossing films of all times. The popular culture is currently dominated by the very same superheroes we were teased for reading about as teenagers. Nerd stuff equals cool now, and that’s something we never even considered growing up.

Remember, 15 year old girls didn’t grow up watching Xena and Buffy. And even if they did, their fandom never carried the cultural ubiquity that sci-fi/fantasy does today. Do you ever remember Walmart having an entire section of the toy department devoted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Xena? Well, they certainly do for superheroes right now! Iron Man, Spiderman, Hulk, Thor, Batman, Superman, their images are on everything these days. I can walk into any crowd of people, ask “who is Tony Stark?”, and likely get a majority of correct answers. The same is not true for, “who is Buffy Summers?”. It’s not just about the character existing, but the character existing on the same global stage as everything else people are into.

You have to remember, today’s teen girls have grown up in a world where shared universe superhero stories dominate the popular culture. We’re talking about a genre of stories that, for decades, was mainly targeted at adolescent boys of our generation. This means that the subject matter largely speaks to them (i.e. why nearly all the heroes are male and win through showings of physical strength) not to mention long-time comics fans have been thrust into the limelight for being the most qualified people to talk about the history, continuity, and nuanced aspects of these properties. And since these properties were so heavily focused on boys back then, it’s mostly boys filling those rolls today. The biggest thing in entertainment on a global, broad-appeal scale right now is something made by men and for men to the largest degree.

This is why Wonder Woman is such a dramatic shift. Not only is it a female superhero, it’s a female superhero leading the movie. It’s also a female superhero displaying aspects of femininity. I mean, Alien was a big movie back in the day (even though sci-fi/horror was still a very niche genre back then) but Ripley always appeared and acted just masculine enough to not offend the fragile egos of boys not wanting girl stuff to distract from the cool, scary aliens ripping people apart in space. Wonder Woman’s whole persona doesn’t just convey confident person, but confident woman; and the distinction is palpable.

Think back to your childhood. How would you have felt to see Xena made into a big blockbuster movie? How would you have felt to walk into a theater and see a giant cutout of Lucy Lawless, dressed in her iconic outfit and striking a heroic pose? How would you have felt if such a movie exploded into the kinds of toy and novelty items that superhero movies do today? How would you have felt if said movie made millions of dollars, became a cultural phenomenon, and cemented itself in the minds of everyone in the world?

This isn’t just about a bad-ass female character. This is about a bad-ass female character sharing the same spotlight as everything else that’s culturally relevant right now. This is about declaring that women can direct and star in movies that are meant to appeal to the masses instead of just needing their own little club. This is about seeing our Xenas and Buffys break from the shackles of Saturday afternoon cable TV and join the biggest of heroes on the biggest of stages. So remember this the next time you hear someone making a “big deal” about Wonder Woman. Instead of trying to explain away justification of their views, maybe ask them to explain why they feel that way. Maybe then we can be the type of humanity Diana always knew we could be.

So You Wanna do a Project on Trans People

lavernecoxtimemagazinejune2014

(Note: this post was originally written for an old blog I contributed to called The 4G Show. Though that site is no longer creating new content, I own all of the rights to what I produced for it. Therefore, I’m going to occasionally bring over old posts from that site to create a more robust reading list here.)

When you live openly as a transgender person, some otherwise strange things happen in your life with a degree of regularity. You get used to being a little nervous going into bathrooms, reading people’s eyes to see if they can tell you’re not cis, Being careful about how you talk about your past, etc. Some of those things you kind of expect. One thing I didn’t expect when I came out was how often I would get asked to be the subject of someone’s photo shoot, article, documentary, etc. on transgender people. These pop up more often than I’d ever thought and I have some serious reservations about them. On the one hand, expose pieces can offer visibility about a group or subject matter to people not often (or ever) exposed to it. However, done wrong they can exploit instead of educate, perpetuate already dangerous misinformation, and just overall make things worse.

I’ve seen pieces on transgender people go both ways and the ones that do it wrong always tend to screw up in the same kinds of ways. Whenever I’m contacted by someone wanting to do one of these projects, I always ask a lot of questions so I can try to determine how I think their finished product will turn out. I like helping out with these when they really have a chance of educating the public, but I don’t like the idea of having my image and name attached to something harmful. So, I figured I’d make this handy little guide to help would-be project makers determine if their transgender documentary, photo shoot, article, whatever is on track to help or hurt our community.

1 – Ask yourself why you’re doing this.

And I don’t mean just take a second to think. Really ponder and consider why this project, this subject matter, is what you’re focusing on. In my experience, people who make the best projects on a particular topics have a personal investment in it. Are you trans yourself? How about a family member? Did your spouse come out to you? Did your child? What made you want to not only know more about the transgender community but to spend time/effort/money in educating others?

Here’s the hard question: do you have no ties to the trans community at all and you just want to show off your writing/photography skills using transgender people while they still occupy that rare space between edgy and topical? Is that you? Yes? Well…fuck off. Seriously, just stop right here. Your project is going to be garbage and only serve to harm the community you think you’re helping. The only two reasons to take on this project when you have no personal ties to trans people is either this or an overwhelming sense of privilege guilt. Now, privilege guilt (i.e. I’m a straight, white male and my life is easy so I want to use my position to help the less fortunate) is not a bad place to come from, but it does make you less likely to do it right. You people don’t have to fuck off, but you do need to keep reading very carefully before you start shooting/writing.

2 – Consider the diversity of your subjects.

But Faith, I’m making a thing about transgender people, and that already makes me Captain Diversity! Wrong. Just wanting to make something about trans people doesn’t automatically elevate you to grand enlightenment. Roland Emmerich learned that the hard way when his movie about the Stonewall Riots bombed because he made it about a white guy and not the transgender women of color that really started it all. If you’re only contacting conventionally beautiful, white transgender women, you’re gonna have a bad time. 

All transgender people are at high risk of violence, unemployment, homelessness, etc., but the threats posed to transgender women of color (TWOC) are astronomically higher than the rest of us. If you’re not planning to include them, you’re doing it very, very wrong. Include transgender people of various races in your pool of subjects (don’t forget trans men, too; they’re basically invisible in our society) but there’s more to trans diversity than the basic race, color, sexual orientation (oh right! You do know gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing, right? No? Maybe you need to read up more before you start your project), etc. You also need to consider how long the subjects have been in transition, how often they get to present authentically, and to what degree they pass for cisgender (a touchy topic, I know, but I’ll explain why that’s important).

Here’s the number one thing you need to be thinking about at all times when you make your documentary or whatever: this might be someone’s first or only exposure to transgender people. Everything they see and don’t see will influence their perception of the community. That’s a point that can really throw a wrench in things and make you be more careful in your decision making if you’re being genuine in your convictions. Consider the following list of unintended messages conveyed from your decisions:

  • Only use white people? – People of color are never transgender.
  • Only use females? – There are no transgender men.
  • Only use full-time subjects? – Gender identity is only valid when the person presents as it. If they don’t dress like their gender, I don’t have to call them by it.
  • Only use people who pass for cisgender? – If they don’t look like their target gender, they aren’t really trans.

That last one can be particularly damaging. After North Carolina passed HB2, a lot of memes started popping up of trans people in the wrong bathrooms with the caption “Do I look like I belong in here?”. It kinda got the message across, but also perpetuated the notion that trans people always pass for their true gender. A lot of trans people don’t pass for cis, and many never will no matter how many hormones they take or surgeries they go through. Don’t let your project make it seem like trans people are always going to blend right in. You’re going to have trans people in restrooms where you can tell they’re trans. If all the person in the next stall ever saw was cis-passing trans people like the ones in those memes (or heaven forbid, your project), things are going to end badly.

3 – Your pictures will make or break everything.

No matter what kind of project you’re doing, it’s likely going to have pictures. There’s an old saying that a picture is worth 1,000 words and that’s very true. What they don’t say is that many of those words can be unintentional. If a transgender project creator is going to royally fuck up anywhere, it’s going to be in the images. This is also where you’re going to be able to tell pretty damn fast whether or not they went into this ordeal with the right intentions.

Before you start snapping pictures, really consider what you want those images to say. What is it about your subject you want to show? I was in a conversation about this with a potential project maker a couple of days ago. He asked me about this and I told him the pictures need to show that transgender people are “remarkably unremarkable”. We don’t need pictures of how feminine or masculine we look. We definitely don’t need you to include our “before” pictures to highlight the difference.

This is another area where only showing cis-passing subjects can come back to haunt you. If you take pictures of…say…a cis-passing trans woman with no other information conveyed, those who are frightened about trans people will be thinking, “oh god! they could be anywhere and I won’t be able to tell!” You need to show subjects at various stages of transition and different levels of passing. But just showing what we look like isn’t enough.

Images of transgender people in your project need to convey normality. Show your audience that we do what they do. Show us at the bank, at work, at the grocery store. Show us hanging out with friends, volunteering, going to a party, or whatever. Convey to your audience that we’re just normal people. There’s nothing to fear when you come across us in your daily lives.

Lastly, these do not need to be glamour shots. I see this more with pictures of trans men than women, where they’re all shirtless with ripped muscles and it conveys a message of sexiness. Please, please don’t shoot your subjects like fashion models or, god forbid, porn stars. There’s already enough trans-fetish material out there. Don’t let your project get grouped into it. Normal clothes, normal poses, normal activities; that’s the key.

4 – Choose your words carefully.

Maybe your project doesn’t include a lot of text, but if it does it needs to be about the right information. Again, we’re asking ourselves what the public needs to know about transgender people and it’s still all about normalcy. Make sure your text reflects that and isn’t including shock value tabloid nonsense.

Have you ever seen an interview with a transgender celebrity? Have you ever noticed how a lot of times the questions derail into asking about very private things like genitals and plastic surgery? Have you noticed that? Well….don’t do that! That kind of stuff is no one’s business but the trans person and their doctor’s. Unless you’re specifically covering the topic of gender confirmation surgery, I’d highly recommend leaving that stuff out entirely.

So what should you include? Well, what would you type about anyone else? Where they grew up, where they went to school, what they do for a living, what their hobbies are, etc. Again, we’re trying to teach people that trans is normal. If someone is looking through your project for shock-value stuff and not finding it, that might serve as the wake-up call they need.

It’s generally okay to mention when they started transition, but there’s no need to state what they’ve had done, what kind of hormones they take, etc. And, for god sake, don’t include the subject’s birth name anywhere. This is about who they are, not who they spent their life pretending to be.

I’ve said many times that the key to transgender acceptance is visibility. People need to know us, to see us. They need to understand that we weave into the fabric of society just like they do. We’re not out on the fringe. We’re not some scary unknown that disrupts everything around us. Too many expose pieces on trans people convey the wrong message, either intentionally or not. If you’re considering taking up something like this, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and that you’ve got a vision that accomplishes your goal.

Actually, Your “Preference for Vaginas” is Both Sexist AND Transphobic

Content and trigger warnings: Sexism, transphobia, graphic imagery.

o-flirting-facebook

“I’m not a racist, but…”

I’m not transphobic, but…”

“I’m not sexist, but…”

Have you noticed that nothing good ever comes after these statements? I don’t think it’s possible to actually follow these words with something that makes them true unless they make absolutely no contextual sense; like, “I’m not a racist, but it’s a nice day today.” If you’re feeling the need to preface your thought with one of these types of disclaimers, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be lying to both yourself and others. These types of statements can offer you an eye-opening look into the people you thought you knew. Once upon a time I had a friend whom I thought was a really great transgender ally. He’d certainly been supportive of me since day one. Then, one day, I came across this little gem on his Facebook feed.

Trigger warning: transphobia

Screenshot_2017-04-26-14-56-08Screenshot_2017-04-26-14-56-36 (1)

My skin crawls when I read that…

Obviously, I removed him from my friends list. This might seem like an entire post dedicated to striking back at a single person who pissed me off on Facebook, but I’m using this as a launching point because it encapsulates so many of the broader notions I see surrounding this kind of thinking. You’ll note the multiple instances of “I know THING X, but…” in here; a soft-sounding preface that does nothing to dampen the blow of vile, anti-trans rhetoric that follows.

There are a lot of people who think this is a a reasonable argument. After all, how does your “preference for vaginas” mean you don’t respect the identities of transgender women? Well, because that’s not what attraction is. If you’re attracted to women then you’re attracted to women. Yes, not all women will connect with you, but your mind has set that as a prerequisite to attraction. You look for femininity in a mate, and I mean that in both a romantic and sexual way.

A “preference for vaginas” has nothing to do with love or even attraction; it’s a fetish. Wanting to pleasure yourself with a vagina is a fetish, as is wanting to pleasure yourself with a penis. On their own, fetishes aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Our bodies crave pleasurable stimulation and do have preferences for said stimulation. Some people get off being hit, others being tied up. Some people like to role play. Other’s like using toys. All of these things are fine. The problem with statements like the one above is that they reduce the person you’re talking about to your fetish and nothing more. At that point, you’ve stripped them of their person-hood.

To say a transgender woman with a penis flirting with you is “false advertising” reaches a level of trans-misogyny that’s beyond the pale. She advertised nothing false. She’s a woman. She flirted with you as a woman. You recognized that femininity and thus responded to said flirting. Nothing false was implied here on her part. You, however, are falsely implying that you see her as a person when you’re really just thinking of her as a walking vagina. Statements like this just prove that you don’t see trans women as women, and you only see cis women as the sum of their genitals.

Take a moment to step outside you’re ego-centric machismo worldview and consider this same scenario from the perspective of the trans woman you’re flirting with. If she is pre-op or has chosen not to undergo surgery, she’s literally gambling with her life right now in hopes of making a human connection. A cisnormative society teaches us to assume people’s genitalia without question. Woman = vagina and man = penis. Even if you two do make it all the way to the bedroom, what exactly do you think is going through her mind? Do you not think she’s considered the exact scenario of being accused of “false advertising” you’re so casually discussing here? She knows you’re likely expecting a vagina and it’s highly unlikely she’s gotten to this obvious moment prior to intercourse without having that conversation with you. Do you really think she’s just going to let you lift up her skirt and be surprised? That’s the stuff that gets trans women killed! What you’re treating as a moment of disappointment is, to her, a literal life-and-death situation.

If you absolutely need a vagina to pleasure yourself then you’re doing it wrong. Transgender women are every bit as capable of satisfying you as cisgender women. We can be just as erotic, just as adventurous, and just as sexy as any cis woman you’ve ever fantasized about. What this really boils down to is you seeing transgender women as men out to trick you into screwing them and that’s just about as low as it gets. It’s not that you have a “preference for vaginas”, you just don’t want to have sex with a trans woman because you see that as having sex with a man and you’re too homophobic to get over that.

Trust me, transgender women are no strangers to the darker sides of fetishism. The derogatory term “tranny” was coined by the porn industry for their videos about sex with pre-op transgender women. Yes, that is a fetish some people have, and it reduces us again to the sum of our parts and nothing more (and this is why you should never call a transgender person that word). I’ve been hit on by a guy before only to have him tell me he had “a thing for chicks with cocks”, and I was instantly repulsed.

You don’t have a “preference for vaginas”; you have a fetish that you allow to fill the void in your heart where actual human connection is supposed to be. You’re a pig trying to dress up your transphobia as you being the real victim in all of this. And most of all, you certainly don’t “respect transgender people, but…”

The Various Forms of Transgender Misogyny

Trigger warnings: Bullying, misogyny, transphobia

In case this is needed before we start:

Cisgender – having a gender identity that matches the one you were assigned at birth.

All good? Okay, moving on…

One of the hardest things about helping cisgender people understand the transgender experience is that there’s nothing to compare it to. There’s simply no analogue for the ways in which being transgender alters and shapes your experiences. Going to work, going out with friends, dressing, self-care, and even just looking in the mirror are all common experiences that are sometimes dramatically altered when when you don’t identify as the gender you were assigned at birth. If I were to list off every little detail of my life that is only there because of my transgender status this post would be longer that the whole damn Harry Potter series. But nowhere is that more apparent than in the various forms of discrimination we face.

Here’s one universal, undeniable fact: it’s really hard to be a woman. From broad cultural norms to tiny micro-aggressions, and even actual laws governing the use of one’s own body, the female experience is unfairly challenging. There are a lot of movements out there trying to alter this fact and they all generally fall under the umbrella term of feminism. Feminism is a great thing. I’ve considered myself a feminist even long before I came out as transgender. But like all large movements, feminism has its whack-jobs. Sections of the more militant among feminist groups have a deep-seeded hatred of transgender women. To them, since we have bodies that match those of cisgender men and were socialized and lived our lives as men prior to coming out, we aren’t really women and are holders of the same privileges awarded to men. The term TERF has become widely seen among progressive groups online, standing for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist.

If you don’t already know I’m strongly against this idea then you must be new here, but I really want to delve into why this way of thinking is so flawed. First off, trans women do not have male privilege, at least not in the same way cisgender men have it. The argument is made that we had it before we came out and while that is technically true, we held it at the cost of our emotional and psychological well-being. Yes, we’re enjoying the relative ease of life that being perceived as male grants you in our society, but that is coupled with all the other aspects of being a guy that we find torturous because we’re having to pretend to be something we’re not. All my life I’ve always felt uncomfortable in groups of men. I never felt like I fit in. I never felt like I was having fun. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I did have male privilege and losing it once I come out was a sobering experience, it didn’t hold a candle to the immense relief I felt no longer having to pretend to be someone else everywhere I went.

When transgender women come out and start living authentically, our world changes dramatically. Being perceived as male does give you a lot of keys to let you pass by certain barriers, and having those keys taken away is quite sobering. I still remember having to get used to male colleagues not taking me as seriously, being talked over by men when I wasn’t finished speaking, and unwanted advances. I still remember the first time a man touched me without permission. I swear my heart stopped beating for a moment. These are all examples of transgender women experiencing the same sexism and misogyny that cisgender women do, so I have come to label it cis-passing misogyny.

I was lucky enough to start passing for cisgender after about eight months on hormones. I know a lot of other transgender women aren’t as fortunate (assuming cis-passing is their goal). When a transgender woman doesn’t pass for cis, she experiences a different kind of misogyny. Her’s is a misogyny of purposeful dead names, articulated misgendering (“how are you doing, SIR?!”), threats of violence, and just general mocking for being “a guy pretending to be a girl”. Make no mistake, this is misogyny; it’s just of a certain type that is specific to the transgender, not cis-passing experience. It’s still being treated harshly because of one’s gender with the actual form of said treatment being specific to the circumstance. It’s no different than misogyny against heavy women (“put down the fork”; “what man would ever want you?”) being different from misogyny against thin women (“stop trying so hard”; “she’s clearly asking for it”). Sadly, the way I was able to tell I passed for cisgender was noticing I was getting the same kind of harassment as my cisgender female friends.

So I passed for cis. I was able to largely go through my day without anyone knowing I’m transgender. Trips to the bathroom regained that glorious banality they had before transition (mostly, anyway). I still remember how good it felt to feel like I didn’t need to wear makeup just to go run a few errands. I could throw on jeans and a t-shirt and still not be misgendered. “Finally,” I thought “life can get back to the normal I experienced before transition: just minus the dark depression and constant suicidal thoughts. Oh no; now my normal was periodically interrupted by cat calls and unwanted touches. My Facebook notifications were full of requests from random men I didn’t know. My new normal was very different from what I was used to before transition.

I’ve never been a transgender man, but I’d have to imagine it’s an easier experience (yes, there’s a lot to unpack there so please don’t take my quick statement as some sort of dismissal of the hardships of transgender men; this is in broad-strokes). Passing for male and also identifying as male is, culturally, the best position you can be in (all other factors excluded). When transgender women start living authentically, we begin an uphill battle towards trying to be cis-passing (some of us, anyway) and if we manage to finally claw our way to that finish line, now we get to run the gauntlet of being a cis-passing woman in a man’s world. We run a race for the chance to run a different race.

“But!”, I hear the TERF’s shouting, “this is why transgender women aren’t really women! They had male privilege and chose to give it up!” I disagree. Do transgender women experience what male privilege is like; yes. However, as stated before, it comes at a great internal cost. Remember, transgender people don’t become someone else when they come out; they reveal who they always were. The only reason transgender women are perceived as male before coming out is that they’re acting like someone who fits their assigned gender. We compensate and sometimes overcompensate for the fact our appearance doesn’t match our identity. I’ve known transgender women who used to be full-bearded biker dudes. I myself used to wear camo, collect guns, and grow a goatee. We try to fit the mold we’re placed in and it just doesn’t work. That pretending to be a man so other people will treat us with respect is another form of misogyny. What kinds of discrimination do effeminate men face? Do I really need to name them off? That’s being treated as a lesser based on the aspects of your person that are culturally coded female; in another word: misogyny.

I said at the beginning that the transgender experience is wholly unique, and that’s very true. Not only is it unlike anyone else’s, it changes as we do. So, the next time you hear a TERF shouting about transgender women having male privilege or not being real women, have the courage to correct them. Stand up for your transgender sisters out there. After all, we’re out there fighting alongside you for the same things. Respect our struggles and see how we can help in the larger fight for equality.

Responding to Pre-transition Pictures Without Being a Colossal Asshole: A Guide

I take a lot of selfies. Like, a lot of selfies. I may be 33, but I have the heart of a young Millennial, posting a picture of my face on my way to or during all kinds of things. I love them. Is it vain: maybe. It helps me though. First off, it’s a confidence booster to put up a picture of yourself and get back a bunch of positive responses (good medicine for a day when dysphoria is particularly weighing on you). Beyond that though, I’m planning to do a transition video in the future and having that many images cataloged by date posted will give me a handy pool of pictures to show the timeline of little changes.

Occasionally, under certain circumstances, I’ll also post an old picture of myself pre-transition. Why? Well, because it’s fun to see people’s eyes get big as they shout “that was you?!“. I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I’m proud of how different I look now from when I presented male. I also know that before transition I used to look up other people’s before and after pictures to get an idea of what kinds of results I could expect from hormones over time and I want to give that same opportunity to others. Now, I don’t show those pictures to just anyone. Seeing an old picture can be a trigger for some trans people and for me it depends on the people I’m with. If I’m surrounded by people who know me as Faith and respect my identity, I have no problem showing them. If I’m around people that still want to refer to me by my old name and pronouns, looking at those pictures is depressing.

Earlier today I was on a makeup group on Facebook. I’m not the only trans woman in the group and occasionally one will post a before and after. It’s a really good group for the most part and most of the responses were pretty positive. Still, when you put that kind of information out there to such a big group of people, you’re going to get an array of responses. One that I kept noticing (and finally said something about) amounted to various forms of being hurtful without realizing you’re saying something negative. Comments like “you were so hot as a guy!”, “I would have totally dated you before”, “you look good as a woman but looked better as a man”, etc.

It baffles me that people think these are okay responses. The whole point of posting a before and after is to let people marvel at the transformation. When you uphold the past as being more desirable, you send a message that the trans person made a mistake. You also show that you see their transition as being something for you, not them. Transition is not something done for the benefit of others. It’s a selfish act and I mean that as a good thing. For transgender people, actually transition and living authentically is the ultimate act of self-care. It’s often done at the expense of friends, family, jobs, and even homes. That kind of sacrifice isn’t made for the benefit of others. In fact, living for others is what keeps a lot of transgender people in the closet in the first place.

Another thing to note is that these kinds of responses are a desire for a person that never actually existed. Remember, physical appearance never ever dictates gender identity. I don’t care if the trans woman you’re talking to looks like Jason Momoa; if they say they’re a woman, they’re a woman. Showing preference for the past photograph is to pine over a fictional character. That person never actually existed. They just pretended to be what they looked like to please an uncaring world. Saying you miss someone’s former identity is to tell them you want them to go back to pretending, go back to being miserable so you’re life can be improved on an immeasurably small level. It’s an asshole thing to do.

Finally, show some damn respect. Sharing a before picture, especially on social media, is a tremendous act of bravery. They didn’t owe you that. So often transgender people get asked for before pictures and it’s incredibly rude. You have no right to see how someone used to look, no claim to that information. When someone shows it to you, it’s as an act of pride. They want you to be amazed at how far they’ve come. It’s no different than sharing before and after pictures of weight loss. Would you tell someone “I liked you better fat?” Actually, scratch that. I actually have seen people say that and it’s just as creepy. If someone’s happy being heavy, awesome; more power to them. But if they want to make a change you should compliment the results of the journey, not lament that it was ever taken in the first place.

16807306_1245300922220662_1360427569368181875_n

18879849_1340446516039435_2736173664942164615_o-e1497119063867.png

This is my before and after. It’s something I’m proud to show because I’ve come a long way. I like knowing it can serve as a source of hope for other transgender people not as far along as I am. I’ve been told before that Joe was a good looking guy and I’m inclined to agree. It doesn’t matter though; he didn’t exist. He was a masculine shell I was trapped in so I played the part and tried to make it normal. The picture on the bottom is real. The picture on the bottom is what should get the attention. Before shots are just a marker to show how long the journey has been. If you’re looking at them with any kind of longing or disapproval of the change, you’re doing it wrong and insulting the transgender person opening up to you.

So please, I beg you, don’t be an asshole if a transgender person chooses to show you their before picture. Take it as the tremendous honor bestowed upon you that it is. Be humbled by the act of bravery you’re witnessing. And, for goodness sake, don’t ruin the moment by implying the transition was in any way a mistake.