Mr. Governor, How Long Must Trans People Wait for Liberty?

Yesterday it was announced that Roy Cooper, governor of the great okay flawed disgraceful state of North Carolina was signing an executive order that makes it illegal to discriminate against LGBT people in government employment. It also bars the state from contracting with any business or organization that discriminates against LGBT people. It’s a bold move, especially given the current political climate of NC. The heavily Republican controlled general assembly has his office so locked up that he basically can’t do anything. I’ve lost count how many of his vetoes have been overridden just this year.

So, once again, my home state is going to be talking a lot about transgender people. The order applies to all LGBT people, but the focus for most queer opposition these days has been on the transgender community, so that’s going to get the bulk of the attention in all this. I have a lot of feelings about this as well as a lot of information that I think needs to be worked through a filter or two. In this post I’ll be both defending Cooper as well as raking him over the coals. I will not, however, be praising him at any point. This new development hasn’t removed him from my shit list.

First off, I need to address the people decrying that this order doesn’t do nearly enough. Why only protect government employees? Why not extend that protection to all LGBT people, regardless of where they work? Well, because he can’t. Executive orders aren’t all that powerful. Cooper can protect government office workers because they all technically fall under the executive branch of government, which therefor makes him their boss. This is very much a case of doing what you can with what you have. I originally turned my nose up at this part because, as far as I know, this is already the case. After the national shit-show started over the passage of HB2, then governor McCrory tried to save face by passing essentially the same thing. His order also stated that government employees who were LGBT would be protected from discrimination. It was a pretty empty gesture though, since the law still made it illegal for transgender people to use public facilities in state-owned buildings. Basically, you couldn’t be fired for being trans, just as long as you never had to pee while at work.

It’s the second part of this order that’s really new. Baring the state from contracting with anti-LGBT groups is a big step. Ironically, it basically makes one of the most hated parts of the Charlotte transgender protection ordinance a statewide policy. That’s good, and serves as a nice middle finger to the Republicans who hated the Charlotte ordinance so bad they wrote the cancerous HB2 to begin with. Cooper had mentioned right after the passage of HB142 DietHB2 that he would be passing some sort of LGBT protection order. There’s been nothing but silence on the matter for months, leading me to think he honestly just tossed the idea once the public ire died down. That’s the one good mark I’ll give him here; at least he came through on his word…this time.

What I want to stress though is that, in my mind at least, this does not exonerate Cooper from signing HB142 in the first place. For those who don’t know, 142 was the replacement to HB2 that basically repealed the bill but barred local governments from passing any kind of non-discrimination laws until the year 2020. It was passed because the NCAA was threatening to take NC off the list of potential championship hosts for the next ten or so years if they didn’t repeal HB2 by their arbitrary deadline. 142 is how they did that. It was signed into law by Cooper after receiving support from enough Democrat senators to get it through the GA. One of those senators was Terry Van Duyn of Asheville, and I had the pleasure of getting to say to her face that it was a load of crap and that I’d lost respect for her.

After 142 became law, the Democrats (Cooper included) who backed it trotted out a synchronized song and dance about how it was only a first step, and that they would keep fighting for transgender equality. It was a message that went over with trans people as well as a cow gets over a ten foot wall, and I was definitely part of that group. It was a load of crap, so much so in fact that it’s the reason I’m still not forgiving him, even after this new executive order. Why, you ask?

Because it should never have happened in the first place.

Remember, LGBT people aren’t a federally protected class. When you tell local governments they can’t pass non-discrimination laws, LGBT (and especially T) is really the only group you’re screwing over. And don’t forget, 142 was passed to save basketball games! Yes, there’s a lot of revenue on the line there, but since when is their a monetary value on the safety and security of a group of human beings? I’m transgender and luckily work for a company that respects my gender identity. What if tomorrow we get a new CEO and they don’t like trans people? They could call me into the office and fire me on the spot, and there’d be nothing I could do about it. That’s a fear I have to live with. That’s a fear the family I provide for has to live with. And Roy Cooper signed a law which told me it’s better for me to keep suffering through that for another 3 years than for the state to lose some basketball games. You know what message that sends? That tells me I’m not completely a person. That tells me my rights, my dignity, my safety, and my basic humanity aren’t as important as they are for other people. Can you imagine if the same kind of law was passed about a religion, or a race? There would be sustained public rage. No amount of money is worth leaving them out in the cold, but that apparently doesn’t apply to transgender people.

So that’s my take. Is this a good order? Yes. Does it forgive Roy Cooper for betraying the transgender community? No. It doesn’t matter that he’s fighting for our rights now, because he already demonstrated that our rights were only worthy of the ‘when I can get around to it’ pile. We’ve already been shown that we’re just talking points to him instead of actual people, and I for one am sick of being treated that way. I won’t be happy getting something just because I rarely get anything. I’m just as much a person as cisgender people are, and I refuse to be seen any differently. So go ahead and call your order a step in the right direction. It doesn’t matter how many steps you’ve taken if you waited in the blocks when the race first started. I am not something for you to just get around to when it’s convenient for you.

I don’t appreciate having to wait to be a person.

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Cis-perience: Chapter 4

“Risha, I’m getting ready to get into the elevator. I’ll need to call you back.”

Kaylee knew that excuse wouldn’t work, but she really needed to get her off the phone. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to fill her roommate in on all the details of last night’s date, but much of the conversation wasn’t appropriate to have it in a crowded office building. Risha had a commanding voice normally, but excitement amplified it considerably. With how loudly she was coming through the phone, it was like she had it set to speaker.

“You can not leave me hanging like this!” Risha insisted. “I need details!”

“If you wanted that so bad you shouldn’t have spent the night at Lauren’s place.”

“Girl, you know I ain’t gonna pass up a chance for me and my girl to…”

“Gotta go, bye!” Kaylee said before quickly hanging up the phone. People in the lobby were already starting to look at her, and she didn’t need Risha to blurt out the details of Lauren sitting on her face last night. She loved Risha like a sister, and often was jealous of her brave, proud demeanor. But it was time to go to work. The gossip hour would have to wait until this evening.

Kaylee loved going to work. She’d spent her young life in the backwoods of the Appalachian mountains, dreaming of having a posh life in the city. The bright lights striped across the ceiling reflected off the glossy, beige floor. The clicks of dress heels and polished men’s shoes echoed off the brown and silver walls like she was in a cathedral. A large, flat TV hung on the wall just before the row of four elevators. Upon the screen, Rachel Maddow recounted the top stories of the day. Finely dressed business men and women crisscrossed the lobby while talking on cellphones or sat upon benches along the wall with computers in their laps. It all coalesced into a snapshot of big-city life, and even though she’d called it home for almost three years now, it always felt as it did on day one.

The elevator doors opened as she approached them. Others waiting had already pressed the call button, but it added to the overall feeling of the universe just falling into place for her. She barely felt her feet on the ground because, to her, it felt like she was walking on clouds. Her mind was locked on that kiss. Her skin still tingled from being pressed against the stubble on Brandon’s face. She remembered the feel of his hands on her hips. No matter how things went with him from now on, she hoped it would never tarnish that moment they’d shared. He still didn’t know she was trans, and if things were to continue he’d eventually have to know, but for now she was living her own metropolitan fairytale.

The polished, silver doors closed and the elevator took off. She spent the ride looking at her reflection in them, though she ignored the fact that she was the tallest person in the elevator. Kaylee was a vision in her cream colored, flowy dress pants and silky, short-sleeved black blouse. Her black pumps raised her another inch off the ground, but she was addicted to the way they clicked on the linoleum floor when she walked. She was the image of a woman with success, a woman with looks, and now a woman with a hot guy yearning for her.

If only she could’ve been a woman with a vagina; then she’d have it made.

Kaylee got off on the 17th floor. The offices for DCS was at the end of the hallway. Double glass doors with the company logo emblazoned across them awaited her at the end of the tan carpeted corridor. Kaylee pulled on the long, stainless handle and made her way into the office.

“Hello, Kaylee,” the receptionist said with a smile. She was a portly, pale woman with short, curly brown and silver hair. Her thick-rimmed glasses were suspended by a chain of large, obviously fake “diamonds’.

“Good morning, Madison,” Kaylee replied with a smile. She heard a few more hellos on her way to her desk. She shared a block of cubicles with three other people. She was grateful to have made it to this point in her career, but her eye was always on one of the private offices along the walls with a 17th floor view of uptown Charlotte. Years ago she was amazed they even let her stay on after coming out to human resources; today she was hungry for a promotion.

She set her stuff on the desk as her phone buzzed in her purse. She fished it out and tapped the screen. REMINDER: Staff Meeting – 15 Minutes. She didn’t really need the reminder since it was how every Friday morning started off, but she never bothered to delete it.

“So, how is Kaylee this morning?” a voice asked from her left.

She smiled as she turned. The man at the desk next to her was rather short, with olive skin and overly-gelled short black hair. He was sharply dressed, too, with a freshly pressed pair of black pants and royal blue shirt. His tie was silky and solid black, done up at the collar with a fancy knot that looked like a flower.

“I’m wonderful!” Kaylee exclaimed. “How is Bashir?”

“Bashir leaned back in his seat and stared at the ceiling. “Just living the dream, like every other day,” he replied sarcastically.

Kaylee sat in her seat and pulled up her email client. After sifting through a few messages, she noticed Bashir’s eyes focused on her. “Something up?” she asked.

“Was about to ask you that,” he answered. “Curious to know why you’re grinning so much.”

“Well,” Kaylee said as she pushed her rolling chair away from the desk. “I had a date last night.”

“Did you now?” Bashir said. He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. “Guy or girl?”

“Guy.”

“Hot?”

Kaylee gave an exaggerated laugh. “As fuck.”

Bashir rubbed his hands together eagerly. “I need pictures.”

The request gave Kaylee pause. “Um…I actually don’t have any.”

Leaning back again, Bashir put up his hands. “Well, as you Americans say: pics or it didn’t happen. Just pull up his Facebook.”

Kaylee grabbed her phone. “I’ll have to find him.”

“You went out with this guy and didn’t already friend him?”
“Not yet.”

“Why?”

“Because…” Kaylee paused as she typed his name into the Facebook search box. His profile was the first result. She smiled as she beheld a picture of him in baggy blue shorts and a white tank top. He was outdoors with a group of guys. Dark sunglasses covered his eyes. He was just so dreamy. “Because he doesn’t know I’m trans yet.”

Bashir’s eyes opened wide. He slid his chair around his desk and into her cubicle. “You mean he couldn’t tell?”
Kaylee raised an eyebrow. “Gee, thanks,” she said sarcastically.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Bashir corrected. “But you didn’t tell him?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Why should I have to?”

“Well, don’t you think he has a right to know if he’s dating you? Maybe he’s not into trans women.”

Kaylee closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “If he’s into women, then trans or cis shouldn’t matter.”

Bashir smirked. “Well, we both know we don’t live in ‘Should-land’.”

“Here’s his picture,” Kaylee said as she turned the phone to him. The conversation was starting to piss her off and she hoped this would stop the uncomfortable turn things were taking.

“Damn, he is cute!” Bashir exclaimed.

“I know, right?!”

“Send him a friend request.”

Kaylee siged. “I told you, I’m not ready for that.”

“Because he’ll find out you’re trans if he stalks your page?”

“Yes.”

Bashir rolled back to his desk. “So it’s no big deal to not tell him, but it is a big deal that he not find out? Don’t you think that’s a bit hypocritical?”

“Fuck you!” Kaylee said louder than the meant to. A couple eyes in the neighboring cubicles turned to them, but soon went back to their computer screens.

“Look, honey,” Bashir started. “You know I love you. You know I support your and I will personally be cheering for you two to fall madly in love and for him to have a huge cock you get to ride into next week.”

Kaylee snickered.

“But if it’s not important for him to know you’re trans, then it can’t be important to keep it from him.” There was a pause. Clicking keys and ringing phones were the only sounds in the open office space. Bashir turned back to his keyboard. “I only say it because I love you, girl.”

Kaylee just sat there. She felt deflated. If Risha were there, Bashir would be getting an ear-full about trans women being just as valid as cis women and that she had a right to privacy. Risha had a much stronger spirit than she did. Kaylee knew it was right, but she did feel like a hypocrite. Thoughts of how Brandon would react if he found out kept popping up in her mind, and she tried her best to push them away. She didn’t want to face them, not yet. She was enjoying her chance to feel like it wasn’t something she had to worry about.

“We gotta get to the boardroom,” Kaylee said softly.

With her laptop under her arm and a coffee cup in her free hand, Kaylee pushed through the glass door on the far wall and stepped into the boardroom. Easily the largest room in the office space, it had eight foot tall windows across the entire wall. The full beauty of the uptown Charlotte skyline served as the backdrop of each day’s business. The table at the center of the room was roughly twenty feet long with a sleek, black, polished surface. A microphone and wall outlet was built in at every seating spot along the table. A projector sat suspended from a beam in the ceiling, casting the image of the DCS logo onto a white backdrop on the wall.

Kaylee took her seat and set her stuff on the table. She took a deep breath as she unlocked the screen on her laptop. Don’t let him kill your high, Kaylee. When her desktop came up it was all set to go. The data from her meeting at the airport was front and center.

“Good morning, everyone,” said a commanding voice from the door. Donald Reed, or ‘Don’, was a middle-aged man with a golden tan and most of his hair gone. He sported a thick moustache and small set of reading glasses. A gray and white suit covered his tall, chubby body. “I trust everyone is ready to get started.

“Yes sir,” said all in attendance, Kaylee included. She took a sip of her coffee.

Don took a seat near the end closest to the screen. “First things first. I need an update on where we are with the Barren Industries account. Kyle, you’re up.

Kaylee took a long, deep breath and closed her eyes.

“Er, sorry,” Don corrected. “Kaylee.”

“Thank you,” Kaylee said as she stood. Almost two years to the day and he still fucks that up sometimes. “I spent about two hours with Mr. Barren yesterday and took him to dinner. He had very few concerns and I’ve already emailed those out to everyone. He’s ready to see the full presentation before he flies back out on Tuesday.”

“Is he staying all weekend just to wait on us?” A woman at the far end of the table asked.

Kaylee shook her head. “His daughter lives in Matthews, so he’s visiting her.”

“Excellent work, Kaylee,” Don said with a smile.

“Thank you, sir.” Kaylee’s phone screen lit up. She knew to keep it on silent during meetings, or else Don would have scolded her for the distraction. She glanced down. It was a text from Roxy. Could my roommates please wait till five to beg me for gossip? She slid the phone under the table and pulled up the message: ‘hon u c this? There was a link attached. She glanced up. Don was talking to Josh about financials, which had nothing to do with her. Convinced she wouldn’t be needed for a moment, Kaylee clicked open the link.

It was a CNN article. First she saw a mug shot of a large, white male with no hair and a thick beard. The title popped up next, and she immediately saw why Roxy had sent it to her. NORTH CAROLINA MAN CHARGED WITH MOLESTING TEEN GIRL IN WOMEN’S RESTROOM. Her stomach turned. Her mind filled in much of the story with just the image and the title, but she read on anyway.

‘TAYLORSVILLE-NC: A 40 year old man from Alexander County has been charged with following a teenage woman into the women’s restroom at the Taylorsville Walmart and exposing himself to her. Authorities were alerted to the Walmart at 5:40pm on Friday evening. After being shouted out of the restroom by the victim and several other women, the man continued to shop in the store. Store management followed him until police arrived, at which point he was arrested for indecent exposure.’

Kaylee gritted her teeth. She could already hear the comments people would make against trans people because of this. The state had infamously dealt with transgender bathroom issues in the past, and it was still a hot-button issue. The thought of reading any more made her nauseous.

“Kaylee!” Don said loudly.

Her boss shouting shook her from her thoughts. She looked up. All eyes were upon her. “Yes?”

“Something taking your attention away from this meeting?” Don asked sternly.

“I…uh…got a news alert on my phone,” she answered, only half lying.

“Anything important?” Don asked. “Anything we should be worried about?”

Kaylee sighed as she gazed out the window. The sky was getting cloudy, and the regular reflections of sunlight in the adjacent buildings was fading. “I really hope not.”

Cis-perience: Chapter 3

It was a miracle Kaylee hadn’t wrecked her car on her way to Dos Amigos restaurant. Not only was she nervously shaking, but her eyes constantly left the road to check her reflection in the visor mirror. It wasn’t for vanities sake, though she was often prone to it. It had been nearly a year since the last time she was on a date, and she’d never dated a guy while presenting authentically. The only boys she’d ever been out with were gay. This was something different. Not only was Brandon straight, she supposed, but he also seemed to think she was cisgender. That prospect was exciting, but also terrifying.

Kaylee would be the first to admit she had a lot of things going for her prior to transition. Even before she took her first Estradiol pill she looked pretty feminine. Her skin was fair with very little body hair. Her adam’s apple barely showed. Hormones served more as icing on the cake rather than a dramatic transformation.

Still, that didn’t mean she was without masculine features, the most glaring of which being her height. She hated standing in groups, especially with cis women. Even in flats she towered over most of them. Kaylee always felt like she stuck out figuratively, but standing half a foot taller than most other women made it literal as well.

The parking lot was packed as she pulled in. After turning the key and shutting off the engine, she found herself frozen in place. Her heart raced. It had been a while since she experienced this, but she recognized the feeling. In her early days of transition, going into a crowded place was always nerve wracking. There were always eyes on her, whispers started flying after she passed people by. It had been months since she felt a room staring at her. Sure, the occasional person clocked her and made for an uncomfortable moment, but then it would pass and life would resume.

It was strange to be this nervous about going into a restaurant again. It wasn’t that she thought everyone would tell she was trans, but the thought of sitting with a guy she didn’t know and convincing him for an entire evening was terrifying. Her fingers played with the hem of her pleated, black skirt. She figured it was too dressy for this kind of date, but Lauren had been so eager to dress her up. Truthfully, seeing herself in the mirror on her closet door boosted her confidence. Kaylee had legs for days. They were one of her best features. Some cute flats and a flowy white shirt with drop shoulders rounded out the look. In the bedroom mirror she’d seen a confident, sexy woman.

Now, she saw a guy in a skirt.

She was two parking rows from the door. There was a trio of guys smoking just outside. She cringed, not liking the idea of having to walk through them. Maybe she would just wait for them to go back inside. This lack of confidence was so unlike her, but this was unlike anything she’d experienced before. The door opened and a hetero couple exited with their leftovers in styrofoam containers. A hand caught the door before it shut, and Kaylee saw Brandon’s head poking out to survey the parking lot.

“Oh, shit!” she said to herself. He was already here. Was his hotel close by? How eager was he to see her? Her hands shook in her lap. Closing her eyes, Kaylee took a couple of deep breaths. “You’ve got this,” she whispered. “You’re confident and he’s really into you. Don’t wimp out now.” She reached for the handle and opened the door. The air was hot and muggy after the storm and she could already smell grilled chicken and peppers wafting from the restaurant. She was careful to keep her legs closed as she stood, knowing her Corolla was pretty low to the ground for a 6 foot woman to be getting out of in a thigh-length skirt.

He was waving at her before she even shut the door. Even in the dim streetlights, she could see that cute smile on his face. It made her relax a little. He looked so genuinely happy to see her. She smiled and wiggled her fingers. He was wearing a polo shirt, dark blue jeans and brown shoes. He was more dressed up to see her than he was to get on an airplane.

Kaylee took small steps across the parking lot. One thing she’d learned in transition was to shorten her stride; it made her look more feminine. The three smoking guys were looking up now and she felt a lump in her throat. There were only two reasons she ever got stared at: either someone thought she was hot or they could tell she was trans. Kaylee tried to keep her attention on Brandon. If she’d been clocked by the guys, she’d find out regardless of whether or not she watched them.

“Don’t you look amazing,” Brandon said with a big grin. Kaylee melted. His voice entranced her, and she caught his eyes scanning her hungrily. She knew she was blushing, and a moment later she knew he could tell.

“Thank you,” she replied. “I hope I’m not too dressy.”

“Not at all. Let’s go get a table.”

The restaurant was noisy. An amalgam of indiscernible conversations were accentuated by the crackling of sizzling fajitas and clinking glasses. The air was alive with the smells of meats and spices. They were led to a table on the far wall. Kaylee was relieved to be sitting again. Standing in a room where most were seated meant lots of eyes on her, and that’s exactly what she didn’t want. She was glad to be with a guy taller than her, but the waiter was only about five foot eight, and she felt like she towered over him.

Brandon sat across from her. The waiter put a basket of chips and bowl of salsa on the table before asking for drink orders.

“Can I see a beer list?” Kaylee asked. Whenever she talked she tightened her throat and put extra air behind her words to raise the pitch of her voice. It was second nature to her now, but in situations like this, where passing felt of dire importance, she put a lot more conscious effort into making it sound as convincing as possible.

“Si, senorita,” he said before stepping back to the server station. Kaylee let out a sigh of relief. Senorita: a female pronoun. It was always reassuring to hear them. The waiter returned with the list and handed it to her.

“Um…I’ll have a Stella, please,” Kaylee requested.

“Same for me,” Brandon said. “You know good beer,” he said with a grin. “Definitely off to a good start.”

Kaylee was a bit of a beer enthusiast, but truthfully she just knew she wouldn’t get through this without a little booze. “Sorry your match got rained out,” she said.

“It happens,” Brandon replied.  There will be other matches.”

“I just hate to think you flew all this way for nothing. They should at least reschedule.”

“Flew?” Brandon said with a puzzled look.

Kaylee grabbed a chip and dipped it into the salsa. “Flew? As in flew into town for the meet?” Was she not making sense?

Brandon’s eyes went wide and he laughed. “Oh! Oh, you thought I… Now that is funny!”

“Am I missing something?”

“You thought I was at the airport because I got off a plane. I was picking up another player.”

“What?!” Kaylee asked with more surprise than she wanted to show.

“Yea, I live in Belmont.”

Kaylee felt a cold sweat on the back of her neck. He was local. Belmont was about twenty minutes away. She cursed her stupidity. Why didn’t she ask where he was from back at the airport? This changed everything. No longer was this definitely a one-time thing. His interest wasn’t passing. It was going to be challenging enough keeping up the cisgender charade for one evening. There was no way this could be any more than that.

“You okay?” he asked.

She’d been staring off into space, leaving a chip half submerged in the salsa. Her other hand was rubbing her knee, something she was prone to do when scared. Keep cool, Kaylee. Don’t let this trip you up. “Yea, just a pleasant surprise,” she answered. “Here I thought you were some mysterious stranger from out of town.”

“Well, I can play that part if you’d prefer,” he said with a coy grin.

Kaylee couldn’t help but smile again. Christ, he was so charming. And that smile of his drove her wild. He still hadn’t shaved since this morning, and she was dying to run her hands across his cheeks.

“I’m sure that sounded stupid,” he admitted.

“Oh no,” Kaylee insisted. “I actually thought it was kind of cute.”

“Can I be honest with you?” he said after a pause.

Kaylee took a sip of her beer. A ring of lipstick stained the rim of the bottle. “Absolutely.”

“I’m actually really nervous and afraid I’m trying too hard and it’s coming across either desperate or dorky.”

“Why would you say that?” Kaylee had to admit, his vulnerability was keeping her distracted from her own worries.

“I’m never this forward with, you know, asking out someone out that I just met.”

“Well, that begs the question then: why me?”

“I…I don’t know. I came out of a nasty breakup a few months ago; last girlfriend cheated on me.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“I’m just happy it’s over. The more I look back the more I realize how bad she was for me. You struck up a conversation with me at the airport and seemed like you were into me.”

Kaylee lowered her head. “Was I that obvious?”

“Yes, and I mean that as a compliment,” he insisted. “I’m thick as cement so otherwise I’d have never picked up on it. Girls aren’t usually as forward as you.”

“Still a compliment?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll admit, this isn’t common for me either,” Kaylee said after taking another sip of beer. “It’s been years since I’ve been on a date.”

“So why did you roll the dice with me?”

Kaylee stared off into space for a moment. “We’ll, for starters, I thought you were really cute.” No sense in being shy if he’s being this open with me. Maybe he’d be okay with me being trans. He certainly does seem the open minded type.

“Is that so?” He asked playfully.

“Yea, and I’ve got to say, you flirting with me was a big confidence booster. I’m really not used to guys looking at me like that?”

“Why? Are they intimidated by a tall woman?”

Kaylee’s eyes darted from side to side as she picked up her beer. “Sure, we’ll say it’s that.”

“No worries,” he said reassuringly. “I have a cousin about your height and she has exactly the same problem you do.”

I doubt it.

The waiter returned to take their orders. Kaylee was starting to feel relaxed and that worried her. The conversation went on long after their plates were cleared. She was sure she was boring him as she talked about her job, but his interest never seemed to wane. Meeting new people was something Kaylee always enjoyed; there was always so much to learn. Brandon worked at his dad’s clothing store and was set to manage a second location they were preparing to open next year. They specialized in outdoors apparel and gear. He looked like a man who liked to get out in the woods, another thing that made him just her type.

“That’s great you have such a good relationship with your parents,” Kaylee said.

“I’m guessing that means you don’t?” Brandon questioned.

“Not exactly.”

“May I ask why?”

Kaylee sighed. “Not on the first date. You gotta get to at least level two to unlock that door.”

Ha laughed. “I take it you’re a gamer nerd then?”

“Oh, yea!” she said enthusiastically.

“What’s your system?”

“PS4”

“Oh no!” Brandon said with cheesy dramatic emphasis. “I play on Xbox! There’s no hope for us now, for we are on on opposite sides of the war!”

Kaylee doubled over laughing. Her elbows slid across the table, taking her hands well past the long empty chip bowl. “Fear not! I will forsake the rivalries of gaming factions to be with you.”

Her eyes were down when she felt Brandon’s hands wrap around hers. He was warm, but Kaylee’s hands were usually cold. There was a slight roughness to his skin. She gasped a little as the touch took her breath away. Her head darted up, letting her lock eyes with him. He had the look of a man who knew he had gambled by touching her hand and was waiting to see if the dice landed in his favor. When she squeezed back, she could tell he knew they had.

She didn’t want it to end. Other patrons had come in, ate, and left as they continued to sit there and talk. Two hours had past before Kaylee could blink. It wasn’t just that she was enjoying herself, though she most certainly was. Kaylee couldn’t help but worry that this would be their one and only date. He was clearly into her and she wanted him so bad she couldn’t stand it, but he still seemed convinced she was cisgender. Thinking he was from out of town had made coming here easier. If a definite goodbye was understood to be inevitable, she wouldn’t have to worry about getting this attached. All night she’d been wanting to not leave, and now she wanted him to never let go of her hand.

They paid for their meal and stepped back out into the muggy Charlotte night air. Restaurant chatter was replaced by honking horns and distant sirens. He walked her to her car, keeping his fingers wrapped in hers for every step. When they reached the driver door they stood face to face. Neither of them seemed to know how the next moment should go, but their hands were still interlocked and Kaylee wanted not to let go.

“So, what are the chances of me getting to level two?” he asked.

Inside, Kaylee was screaming. He was just perfect. If she were cis, this would have been the biggest no brainer in history. But she wasn’t, and she was the only one who knew that. Everything that had happened tonight, every magical moment, was built on an unstable foundation. Caution told her to say no, or at least to say she’d call him later so she could make decisions in a more rational mindset.

But there was another voice, a voice that had been quietly whispering in the back of her mind but now insisted on shouting. Fuck caution! Fuck depriving myself because I’m not cis! I deserve romance! I deserve to date a hot guy! Stop overthinking this and just enjoy your cis-perience as long as you can!

She leaned in and planted her lips on his. She’d been staring at them all night, watching them move with each word he said, wondering what kissing him would be like. Kaylee closed her eyes as her heart raced. Her soul demanded this moment of absolute selfishness and was relishing in it. Brandon’s hand slipped from hers and for a moment she worried she’d moved too fast. But when she felt his palms squeezing her waist she reached heaven. Kaylee didn’t know how long the kiss actually lasted, but it could have gone until dawn and not been long enough. When they finally parted, she sat in her dark car and watched him walk away.

“What the fuck am I going to do?”

Take a Knee to Take a Stand

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A few months ago I went to a town hall meeting. It was hosted by the Republican congressman from the district next to mine (the one from my district is even worse). It was a packed house, with attendance seeming to fall close to even along party lines. Before the meeting began, the crowd was asked to stand and face the flag to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Everyone stood and turned towards the front-left corner of the large room where the flag was erected and chanted in unison.

I did not participate. As everyone else stood and recited, I remained in my seat and silent. From what I could tell, I was the only person in attendance to do so. I was honestly afraid I was going to catch a lot of hate for it, but my silent protest seemed to go largely unnoticed. Of course, I’m just some woman from Podunk, North Carolina. I’m not on any big stage or under any bright spotlight to where all eyes are upon me. The football players in the NFL however, are.

A year or so ago, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kapernick began a silent protest where, during the pre-game National Anthem, he knelt instead of standing (previously he sat). There was a public outcry as people demanded he stand for the Anthem, saying his actions disrespected America and the military. The turmoil ultimately concluded in his football career ending long before it should have. However, this year dozens of NFL players (as well as players in other sports) have followed his example. They kneel, they lock arms, sometimes they just stay in the locker room. Their protest has nothing to do with the armed forces. No, it was to draw attention to the epidemic of police brutality against African American men in America. Across the country, black men (and some women) are being gunned down during stops for minor infractions or even when they’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. These poor souls have lost their lives due to police racism. To make matters worse, the deceased often get no justice as the officers committing the crimes aren’t even charged. It’s disgusting, it’s unjust, and it absolutely needs to stop.

I join these people in solidarity. Their cause is just and their method is sound. I personally have not stood for the Anthem or the Pledge in at least a couple of years now.  What they’re speaking out about, what they’re drawing attention to, desperately needs to be a part of the cultural conversation right now. Of course, those who are decrying the action keep changing the subject. “How dare you disrespect the troops!” they yell, as if that had anything to do with their protest. “Find a more appropriate way to protest!” they whine, as if they’d be satisfied with any outcome other than black men going back to quietly doing what they’re told. And when they see me participating, it turns to, “why are you kneeling; you’re white!”.

First and foremost, I kneel because I agree with the message. The cause of equal justice for black Americans would be won by now if white people would lend their voices. For as much as I talk about transgender struggles on this blog (we’re getting to that, by the way), I’ll be the first to tell you that I unfairly enjoy an exorbitant amount of white privilege. I don’t experience fear when interacting with the police. I’ve never had my job application passed by because I had a “black sounding” name. I’ve never been labeled a thug. I’ve never worried that the legal system would impose on my a ludicrous penalty for a small infraction.  I’ve never had someone be afraid to sit near me or to walk past me on the street. That’s not my world, and it’s not fair that it’s theirs. Because of that, I kneel during the National Anthem.

But that’s not the only reason…

Before I keep going, I want to make one thing abundantly clear: when talking about National Anthem protests, the conversation needs to first and foremost be about the mistreatment of African Americans in our society, if it’s about anything else at all. That is the focus. It is where the spotlight must shine. I’m close to 800 words in now before even mentioning anything other than that and that’s very much on purpose. Black lives matter, and I’ll shout it anywhere, anytime. But I kneel for another reason, too. For as much as I enjoy white privilege, it can’t be denied that the United States has been really shitty when it comes to the treatment of transgender people and it’s only gotten worse in the years since marriage equality was finally legalized (that’s a tease for a future post).

In just the last year, the Justice Department has removed bathroom protections for transgender students. In just the last month or two, President Fuhrer Trump has tried to ban transgender people from serving in the military and Nikki Haley voted in the United Nations not to ban countries from executing gay people. In just the last week, Jeff Sessions announced that Title VII would no longer protect transgender people from workplace discrimination. We’ve fought bathroom bill after goddamn bathroom bill in states all over the country. America is trying very hard to make transgender people go away, and you wonder why I won’t respect a song honoring America?

You really think I’m going to be thankful for my freedom under these circumstances? You really expect me to stand up for a nation that keeps trying to kick me down? Hell no! I will not show this flag, this song, and certainly not this country that kind of respect; it hasn’t earned it. Let’s face a cold, hard truth: America is an embarrassment. I don’t even fly the American Flag outside of my house anymore. The last time I took it down because there was a storm coming I couldn’t stomach the thought of putting it back up. When I look at the Stars and Stripes, all I think about is the injustice, the intolerance, the bigotry, and the ignorance-worshiping nationalism it truly represents. When I see “Old Glory”, I think about all the times I’ve had to call my elected officials and beg them not to either kick me out of the bathroom or take away my healthcare. When I hear the National Anthem, I here a chorus of voices calling me a “freak”, a “monster”, a “deviant”, a “sinner”, and a “pervert”. I feel no pride in America, and I won’t pretend to.

Now, if you’re getting all red in the face while reading this and thinking ‘well just move if you hate America so much!’, this next part’s for you. I’m not going to do that. See, for as much as I consider America as a whole a dark spot on the world these days, there are plenty of Americans I’m rather fond of. There are wonderful people in my community, people who represent love, compassion, understanding, tolerance, and unity. I’m proud of my life and the things I’ve accomplished. I’m proud of my family. These are all things I’ve earned, not because of the promise of America, but in spite of what this nation has tried to keep me from. I will fight to see this nation transformed into what it has the potential to be. I will work tirelessly to ensure the promise of safety and prosperity is fulfilled for everyone. When we achieve that kind of America, then I will stand up with my hand over my heart and sing, “Oh say can you see…”

The Skirt: A #HoldOntoTheLight Story

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This is a story about a skirt. Well, kind of. The skirt plays a big role, but it’s really about a girl trying to exist in a world not built for her. It’s a story about accepting who you are and not being afraid to let others see you as well. It’s a story about being transgender.

You’ll hear a lot of transgender people say they “knew since they were little” that they’d been assigned the wrong gender at birth. I’m not one of them. My story doesn’t fit the Hallmark movie aesthetic, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. I can remember as far back as Kindergarten wishing I could be a girl, but I didn’t grow up wanting to change my gender (mostly because I didn’t even know that was an option in the late 80’s to early 90’s). I knew I was more comfortable around girls. I knew I liked “girl stuff” as much as I liked “boy stuff”, but I wasn’t allowed to. I knew being in groups of men always made me feel uneasy.

It wasn’t until my early twenties that body dysphoria (feeling that your body doesn’t match who you are inside) hit me like a truck. This was when I first started hearing about transgender even being a thing. This is where the skirt comes in. I was walking alone down the streets of downtown Boone, North Carolina (was going to Appalachian State at the time; GO MOUNTAINEERS!). There was this cute little hippie clothing store with stuff in the window that caught my eye. Stuff I could never wear, of course. But I still liked to look at it and imagine getting to wear it.

Finding a surge of bravery, I went into the shop and started browsing. There was no one in there save for the the lady behind the counter. But she greeted me with a smile. I perused the clothes on the racks, liking a lot of what I saw. I came to a skirt that caught my attention. It was an ankle-length and flowy with a bohemian-chic vibe that just clicked with me. The girl at the counter wasn’t giving me weird looks for browsing the skirts, so I pushed my luck and asked to try it on. She let me in the changing room and I tried on the skirt. I loved the look of it. I loved the feel of it. I loved seeing it on my body (even though I hated my body).

I bought it. She rang me up and I went back home with my new skirt. I was so proud of myself; I’d done something girls were allowed to do. Something as mundane as buying a skirt is like climbing a mountain when society tells you you’re not allowed to do it. Any time I was just hanging around the house, I wore my skirt. I never left the house with it on. After all, that would be just asking for trouble. It made me want more feminine experiences. I bought some more clothes; a blouse here, a pair of jeans there. A few things of makeup found their way into my collection too. I opened up new online accounts with a female name. The anonymity of the web allowed me to be me without the shackles of my body hiding my true identity. With each step I grew more brazen. Each new milestone brought a sense of accomplishment, but also a hunger for more. I knew I wanted to transition, to live as the woman I actually was.

But a journey can only be easy for so long, and before long I hit a wall. Up until now, authentic gender expression was an occasional fling. Any further down the path would mean crossing the threshold into permanency. I wanted it…Christ how I wanted it, but beyond that wall was an uncaring world ready to push back. I could never come out at work or to my parents. In my time online with other trans people I’d heard horror stories of unemployment and homelessness. Post after post told of family who’d cast them out or spouses who’d abandoned them. I knew my parents would never accept me and that coming out would be an undue hardship on my then girlfriend (now wife) whom I deeply loved. It just wasn’t possible, wasn’t meant to be.

All at once I declared that it was over. I deleted my online accounts and committed myself to living as a man. I let my facial hair grow out and got my hair cut short again. My circle of friends became people who represented what I thought a man should be. More and more I tried to take on the persona of a “manly man”. I became the person society wanted me to be, or at least I pretended to. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t me. I didn’t want to be that person, and the constant pretending left me horribly depressed. I went through a purge. Everything feminine I’d acquired either went in the trash or was donated to charity. Everything except that skirt. I couldn’t bring myself to part with it. I held it balled up in my fist over the give-away box on the floor. I’d stare at it, contemplating the decision, but ultimately conceded to bury it in the back of my closet (a fitting metaphor).

Friends and family could always tell. “What’s wrong, Joe?” they’d ask. “Are you okay?” I’d lie and say I was tired, or had work stuff on my mind. But it was a constant thing. I didn’t want to see friends, or if I did go out with people I spent the whole time just wanting to go home and be alone. A shower became my favorite part of the day. It was the only place I was guaranteed to be alone. It was where I didn’t have to hold my face a certain way, where no one would know I was crying.

It would eventually become too much to bear and I’d try again. When you deprive yourself completely, previous progress can feel new again. The skirt was the first thing to come back out. Wearing it around the house again was a great release. Putting on makeup when no one else was home felt validating. Of course, like before, it was never enough, and I’d crave a fuller feminine experience. When I’d come again to the same wall, the purge would begin again. The cycle always came to the same point of me trying to get rid of the skirt. I tried to make myself. I’d toss it in the giveaway box only to pull it out again before taking it to the donation center. I was absolutely certain I’d never transition, never live as myself. Still, giving up that skirt was letting go of the last shred of hope, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Even when I was at my lowest, even when I was trying so hard to be a man because that’s what was expected of me, I took solace in knowing that skirt was tucked away at the back of the closet. It was my tiny little hope that maybe, just maybe, someday I’d get to live as myself. It was my tiny little light in an endless darkness, and I couldn’t bring myself to let it go.

This cycle went on for nearly a decade. Each time my depression got worse. I’d contemplated suicide before, but it reached a point of taking over my thoughts. Every waking moment, my mind was filled with scenarios. How would I do it? Where would I do it? What note would I leave? What would my family do without me (we had a child by this point)? When you catch yourself on your insurance company’s website researching whether or not they will pay out for a suicide, you know you’ve hit the bottom.

I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t start the cycle again because by now I knew exactly where it would lead. There were only two options left to me: live authentically or finally give into the dark voices and check out. My wife and I had a long talk about it and she gave me her support to finally transition. It was time to stop the cycle and break free.

The journey began again, but this time I smashed through the walls. I took steps there was no coming back from. Coming out at work was terrifying, but I was thankfully allowed to transition and keep my job (very lucky). Telling my parents was the hardest part. Nothing upends a seemingly functional family quite like a gender dysphoria admission. Truthfully, we’re still picking up the pieces. Still, I got through it. It was one of the hardest walls for me to punch through, and now it’s behind me.

Before long I was waking up and going to bed every day as Faith. There was no more pretending, no more assuming the role of the man everyone thought I was. It was liberating. My depression and anxiety lessened. My suicidal thoughts evaporated. I enjoyed time with friends again, going from a somber recluce to a social butterfly in a matter of months. And even though our relationship remains a little shaky, my dad told me I was smiling more authentically than he’d seen me do in years.

There were many milestones along the way. I started hormones. I had my facial hair removed with laser treatments. I gave away all of my boy clothes to make room for my new wardrobe that slowly took over my closet. Back in March of 2017, I took my last trip to the courthouse where the Clerk of Court handed me a piece of paper declaring that Faith was now my legal name. On that final leg of the journey, I wore my old green skirt. For years I’d wandered in darkness, absolutely certain that there was no hope for me out there. There was no better, no happiness, no fulfillment. Still, I’d held onto that skirt for so many years, letting it represent the tiniest little bit of ‘maybe’ I could cling to. Maybe one day it will happen. Maybe one day I’ll get to live as myself. Maybe one day I won’t have to hurt anymore. Well, maybe had finally come to pass, and it was only fitting that I wear that skirt as I achieved what I’d been so sure was impossible.

So I say to you, find something that keeps your hope alive. It can be something small: a picture, a piece of clothing, a note, anything. As long as it represents to you the notion that the darkness doesn’t have to last forever. Keep that hope close, never let it go. Never allow yourself to abandon it. My skirt always reminded me of how I felt when I bought it. I wanted to feel like that every day. That skirt kept the memory alive, the memory kept the dream alive, and the dream finally changed my life.

Hold onto your hope. Hold onto that one thing that reminds you it’s not forever, that you can get through it as long as you don’t give up. When you hold onto the light, it will eventually drive out the darkness.

Cis-perience: Chapter 2

Chapter 2

“Ha, five-hundred dollars! Cough it up, bitch!”

Rain beat heavily against the window on the far wall, nearly drowning out the ceiling fan spinning above the dining table. A few half-empty Miller Lite bottles stood sentry around the game board. Kaylee looked down at her dwindling reserves. She had a handful of colorful bills to her name, and none of them of particularly high value. She glanced up again. Risha’s head bobbed slowly with an heir of smugness. With her left hand, she tauntingly waved the deed to Boardwalk like a dime bag in front of a crack addict.

“I guess that’s it for me,” Kaylee said with acted heartbreak. Truthfully, she hadn’t wanted to play Monopoly tonight. She wouldn’t have minded skipping game night altogether. Her mind was just elsewhere.

“What you mean, ‘that’s it’?” Risha asked. “You got all kinds a shit you can mortgage there.”

Kaylee laughed and shook her head. “Why prolong the inevitable?”

Risha slumped back in her chair. “Whatever. Yo head was never actually in the game anyway.”

A flurry of hand movements to Kaylee’s left caught her eye. The signs were directed at Risha and she was going kind of fast, but Kaylee had been around Lauren enough now to learn a bit of sign language. There was the sign for ‘what’ followed by a point to herself, so she figured Lauren was asking what she was doing.

“She punkin’ out on us like a little bitch,” Risha said back as she signed. Years of training and social work at taught her how to sign, but it wasn’t until she and Lauren were dating that Risha started using it a lot around the apartment. That’s when Kaylee started picking some of it up.

“I’m not ‘punking out’. I just have a lot on my mind.”

“Work stuff?” Risha asked as she started cleaning up the game pieces.

“Not exactly,” Kaylee replied. Lauren tapped her shoulder to get her attention. She signed something, but went too fast for her to comprehend it. Taking a moment to think, Kaylee circled her fist in front of her stomach and then dragged her fingers up her forearm. “Please; slow,” she clumsily said.

Lauren nodded and started over, signing each word one at a time. “What; on; your; mind?”

“Oh, um…” Kaylee responded. Her hands stood in limbo for a moment as she tried to figure out how to respond.

Risha laughed. “Girl, just start talking, I’ll sign.”

“Thank you,” Kaylee said with a sigh of relief.

“Don’t thank me. I’ve been wondering the same damn thing.”

“Pizza’s ready!” another voice shouted from the kitchen. “Who’s turn is it?”

“We quit playing, Roxy,” Risha replied. “I own the world and all ya’ll asses. Now we trying to get Kaylee to quit being so secretive.”

A skinny, pale woman emerged from the kitchen. She had rigid facial features and a long mop of straight, blond hair. She wore a white tank-top and little blue shorts. “Yea, what’s with you tonight, girl?”

Kaylee knew she was blushing again. “Well…I kind of…maybe…had a guy flirting with me today.”

Risha grinned and slapped her palms against the table. “That’s my girl! That’s my girl!

As Risha filled Lauren in, Roxy sat at the end of the table. Her legs crossed and she took a sip of her beer. “So, are we talking like a cis guy?”

Kaylee nodded.

“And he couldn’t tell?”

“He didn’t seem to.”

There was a boom of thunder and the power flickered. Lauren let out a startled yelp, the first sound she’d made all night.

“You okay, honey?” Risha signed and said.

Lauren nodded. Her hand was on her chest and her breaths were deep.

“I…never…hear…you…make…noise,” Kaylee said while slowly signing along. Lauren lowered her head and made the motion for ‘sorry’.

Risha rolled her eyes and tapped Lauren’s shoulder, getting her to look back up. “Girl, nothing to be sorry for,” she said and signed. “I think you perfect as you are.”

Lauren blushed. Her flat hand rose to her chin then moved away to say, ‘thank you’.

Risha leaned over the table. Her large breasts flattened out against the wooden surface. “Of course, she sing like an angel when I do this one thing with my tongue where…”

“Risha!” Kaylee yelled.

Lauren frantically demanded to be filled in, and after Risha repeated the sentiment with her hands, she leaned across the table and slapped her shoulder.

“Hey, you bitches all love eating chocolate, but it’s even better when chocolate eats you back.”

“As hot as this conversation is, it’s distracting us from Kaylee’s cis-perience,” Roxy said. She took another sip of her beer and set it down in the condensation ring it had already formed.

“Her what?” Risha asked.

“Cis-perience,” Roxy repeated. “It’s when no one can tell you’re trans so you get to just do shit like a cis person does: go to the bathroom, go dress shopping, get hit on by straight guys.”

“You made that up,” Risha scoffed.

“I coined it,” Roxy smugly corrected. “There’s a difference. It will be a thing someday, and you’ll all know where it started.”

“Besides, ain’t nobody clocked Kaylee the supermodel over here in months. Skinny bitch look ready to pose for Playboy or some shit as it is.”

“Oh please,” Kaylee replied. Thunder rumbled again, but softer this time. The rain was still pouring, but wasn’t as loud against the window. The storm was finally letting up. “I don’t always pass for cis.”

Roxy leaned over and tapped Kaylee on the wrist. “Honey, the only second look I see anyone give you these days says, ‘I wanna get under that skirt’; not, ‘that’s a tranny’.”

Kaylee squinted and shook her head. “I hate that word.”

“You hate it because it gets used against you,” Roxy said. “Own it and it can’t hurt you.”

“I’d just really prefer you not use it.”

“Words are only weapons if you let them be,” Roxy retorted. “I mean, black people get to take back the word…”

“Finish that sentence and I’ll smash this bottle upside your head,” Risha said. She’d left the conversation to act as interpreter for Lauren.

Roxy raised her hands in a gesture of surrender.

“And, for the record,” Risha continued, “there’s a big difference between a porn word and a slave word.”

“Well, since I’m a porn star I guess it doesn’t bother me as much.”

Risha laughed. “Bitch, you a cam girl. Don’t flatter yourself.”

“Hey, this cam girl has over five hundred followers!” Roxy fired back.

“You two can hash this out while I get the pizza,” Kaylee said with a roll of her eyes. She waved at Lauren to get her attention. “I…go…get…food…make…sure…they…don’t…kill…each…other.”

Lauren laughed and nodded.

Risha and Roxy playfully bickered as Kaylee slipped into the kitchen. The pizza was already cut and ready to be served, but Kaylee wanted to take an extra moment to herself. She always felt a little bad when her pass-ability was brought up. Even though she was tall, she’d never had a particularly masculine looking figure. In fact, she’d started getting “ma’amed” as soon as her hair got long, and that was before she took a single round of hormones. She still saw her masculine features when she looked in the mirror, but hardly anyone she met day to day seemed to notice them.

This wasn’t the first time she’d heard Roxy use her “cis-perience” phrase. She was often accused of living her whole life like a cis woman at this point. And, truthfully, that was pretty much the case. Aside from little moments here and there, her trans status rarely interfered with her life. She went to work, went shopping, went to dinner out, and did everything else with a wonderful sense of mundanity.

Of course, there were still some things she’d never experienced before, and having a straight, cis boy flirt with her was definitely one of them. It was something she not only dreamed of, but always assumed would just never happen. She’d never had a boyfriend; just a couple of girlfriends during her “boy” years. It was a wonderful moment, and she was glad it had happened.

“Kaylee, your phone’s going off,” Roxy shouted from the living room.

She darted back to the table. Kaylee was usually glued to her phone. Clients would call or text all the time and she liked to always respond promptly. NEW MESSAGE was displayed across the screen when she unlocked the phone. There was a number, but no name, so it wasn’t someone in her contacts.

Hey.

That’s all it said. Kaylee gave her screen a perplexed look.

“Something wrong?” Roxy asked.

She didn’t answer, instead tapping out ‘who is this?’ on her keypad.

Your favorite disk golf player. 🙂

“It’s him!” Kaylee exclaimed.

Risha and Roxy jumped to their feet. “Straight boy be texting you already?!” She filled Lauren in on the new development when her girlfriend shot her a confused glance.

“You gave him your number?” Roxy asked.

“I gave him my card, yea,” she said. “I didn’t expect him to actually contact me or anything.”

“And the same day, too,” Roxy said with a smile.

“Honey, he want dat ass,” Risha said with a big smile.

Kaylee’s heart was racing as she went back to typing. Her thumbs were shaking, causing her to make a few errors where even auto-fill couldn’t tell what she was trying to say. ‘Didn’t think I’d hear back from you. What’s up?’

An ellipsis danced under her response. He was already typing something back. Our meet got rained out. What are you doing for dinner?

“He…he’s asking me out!” Kaylee said. She could barely form the words.

Risha screamed and shook her fists by her shoulders. “Oh yes, lord! My straight roommate finally gonna have a man in her life!”

“Calm down,” Kaylee insisted.

“Da fuck I will!” Risha responded. “This is big for you!”

“And you’re positive he couldn’t tell you’re trans?” Roxy asked. Her happiness was much more reserved, seemingly even more than Kaylee’s.

“I…I don’t think so. It didn’t feel like he could.” She blushed. “I was honestly just enjoying the attention.”

“Say something back! Say something back!” Risha begged. Lauren moved into the circle of women all huddled over the phone.

“What do I say?” Kaylee begged. She was very much so in uncharted territory.

“What do you say?!” Risha replied in bewilderment. “You say your ass is free for dinner and ask when he’s picking you up!”

“She doesn’t need to rush this,” Roxy retorted. “Where is he even from?”

“I actually never asked,” Kaylee replied. She felt foolish for not realizing that until now. “I just know he was in town for a disk golf tournament.”

“A what?” Risha asked.

Kaylee shook her head. “Never mind.”

“At least tell him you free,” Risha insisted.

Kaylee went back to typing. ‘I have no plans.’

Where do you like to eat around here?

Risha hopped up and down. “Yes! My girl be on tonight!”

Roxy put her hand on Kaylee’s shoulder. “Honey, you look nervous,” she said. “You know you don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”

“No, I’m not uncomfortable,” Kaylee answered. “I really want to go out with him. It’s just…kind of surreal. No guy has ever genuinely asked me out before.”

“Would you quit being such a downer, Roxy?” Risha snapped. “Be happy for the girl!”

Roxy sighed. “Cis women don’t understand. If this guy doesn’t know she’s trans and they go out on an actual date, him finding out could get really ugly really fast.”

Kaylee cringed. Roxy had put into words what she was feeling but couldn’t express. The phone buzzed again.

You still there? Am I coming on too strong?

Kaylee took a deep breath and went back to typing. ‘Sorry. I’d love to get dinner. You like Mexican food?’

Oh yea.

‘There’s a great place on Tryon,” Kaylee typed. ‘I’ll text you the address’.

See you there at 7?

‘Sounds good.’

Kaylee’s hands trembled as the ellipses bounced on the screen. It’s a date, was the reply.

“It’s a date!” Risha exclaimed with her fists in the air.

Lauren waved to get Kaylee’s attention. She signed something, but Kaylee only recognized the signs for “what” and “you”. In turn, she just stood there dumbfounded.

Risha laughed. “Miss fashion diva over here wants to know what you’re going to wear.”

“Oh!” Kaylee said. “Um, I have no idea. I’m not even entirely certain I’m going to go.”

“They hell you mean not going to go?!” Risha asked after pausing her translation for Lauren. “Not going is not an option on the table.”

“It most certainly is an option,” Roxy said. She had a habit of gesturing with her hands but keeping her elbows in tight when she argued.

“She already told him she was going,” Risha insisted.

“Doesn’t mean she can’t text again saying nevermind.”

Kaylee just stood there staring at the living room wall. She didn’t want to be making eye contact with any of them as she pondered the decision.

Roxy took a deep breath. “At the same time though, dating a cis guy is a cis-perience hardly any of us get to have. If he was as sweet as you say, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to give it a shot.”

“And we’ll stay by our phones in case you need help,” Risha assured in her most docile tone of the night. Now that Roxy was on her side, she didn’t mind switching to the cautious mama roll. “Tryon’s not far from here, so we’ll be here if you need us.”

“Really?” Kaylee said.

Roxy took hold of Kaylee’s hand and smiled. “If you send up the bat signal, we’ll come running.”

“Thank you,” Kaylee replied warmly. She was nervous, sure, but also filled with excitement. Brandon was practically begging her to go out with him. It was the kind of attention she’d never been given, though she’d been friends with plenty of girls over the years that she’d seen being doted on. It always made her jealous, especially before she transitioned. Now it was her turn. Besides, Brandon was from out of town. It’s not like she’d ever see him again after this. There was no reason to even let him know she was trans. She wondered how long she could keep it from him, how long she could enjoy being on a date like a cis woman.

Off to Kaylee’s right, Lauren hopped up and down while signing something far too fast for her to understand. Kaylee didn’t bother, instead just looking over to Risha who was already smiling.

Risha laughed. “She really wants to help you pick your outfit.”

Kaylee smiled and worked her fist up and down for ‘yes’. As soon as her fingers were open, Lauren grabbed her hand and tugged her towards the bedroom with great excitement.

Cis-perience – Chapter 1

                The first thing she noticed was his ‘Bernie 2016’ shirt. The terminal of Charlotte-Douglas airport was usually a parade of blazers, ties, pant-suits, and pencil-thin skirts. Shiny shoes clicking against the polished floor was a common background noise, but his worn-out sandals didn’t make a sound. A pair of brown cargo shorts exposed his hairy legs from the knees down. He was a strange sight, and it was enough to distract her from the colorful graphs and blocks of numbers splayed across her laptop screen.

                She was sitting at a table on the very edge of the terminal McDonald’s. Steam billowed from the opening atop her coffee cup, giving her small space a sweet aroma to work with. He was tall, easily six-foot-three, and that made him just her type. At six-one herself, Kaylee was used to being taller than most of the guys in her life. She liked guys she could feel more petite standing next to.

                He turned a few feet away and made his way to the counter. That’s when Kaylee realized she was staring. Her eyes darted back to her screen, letting it act as a wall between them. The client would be landing any minute and she’d need to have her key figures committed to memory. The current tab showed predictions of future changes to productivity ratios, which was the client’s focus.

                Movement to her left caught her eye. He was sitting down at the table next to her. The guy was just so tall; how could she not notice? He had a stocky build and tan skin. A thick goatee surrounded his mouth, with 2-day old stubble across the rest of his face. His black hair was pulled back in a man-bun. He had such an earthy vibe to him and she loved it.

                Then his eyes moved towards her.

                She was staring, and now he’d noticed. Kaylee needed a reason. With a big smile, she half-lifted her fist. “Feel the Bern,” she said with a laugh.

                He chuckled. With only a laugh she could discern he had a pretty low voice. His teeth were as white as the empty cells of the spreadsheet she was ignoring. “He so would have won,” he said.

                “Can’t argue there,” Kaylee replied.

                “Where you headed?” he asked.

                “Oh, nowhere,” she replied. “I live in Charlotte. I’m just waiting for my client to land.”

                “Well doesn’t that sound all big and important,” he replied with playful sarcasm. “You look dressed to change the world anyway.” Kaylee had on a white blouse tucked into a slate-gray skirt that went down to her knees. A pair of tan stockings followed the rest of the way down to her black pumps. She was dressed much like the rest of the business drones rolling their laptop bags up and down the reflective floor.

                “And you look dressed for a frat party,” she replied. Was that rude or playful? I hope he thought it was funny. Please find it funny.

                He laughed, and she stopped herself from audibly sighing. “I ain’t exactly Fortune 500, am I?”

                “You seem more the free spirit. What brings you here?”

                “Disk golf tournament.”

                Kaylee raised her eyebrows and blinked a few times. “What is that?”

                His jaw and eyes opened wide. “Only the fastest growing sport in America!”

                She laughed. “That doesn’t tell me much.”

                “Okay, so you’re out on a field with a disk, and it’s kind of like a Frisbee,” he starts. His sudden excitement at getting to explain his hobby was hilarious. The boy hadn’t even touched his food yet, but his body turned towards her and his hands gestured vigorously as he talked. “You use the disk just like you would a golf ball in a golf game. At the other end of the field is this big fountain-looking thing with chains on it. You gotta throw the disk so it gets caught in the chains.”

                “…fascinating.”

                “I promise, it’s fun.”

                Kaylee panicked a little. He was turning back to his food. She didn’t want the conversation to be over yet. “So, what’s your name?”

                She’d caught him mid-bite on his burger. He held a finger up while trying to chew a little faster. “Brandon,” he said after swallowing.

                “I’m Kaylee,” she replied while extending her hand. “Nice to meet you.”

                He took her hand delicately, and it gave her a shiver up her arm. His hands were rough, perhaps disk golf built up calluses on your fingers. “That’s a pretty name.”

                Kaylee thought she was going to melt. His voice was so smooth as he complimented her name. His smile had changed, less jolly and coyer, like he liked what he was seeing. “Um…thank you,” she replied. Fuck! That probably sounded condescending! I’m blowing this!

“So, what do you do, Kaylee, what with your laptop and fancy clothes?”

                “I’m an IT Solutions Integration Consultant.”

                He was silent for a moment. “Okay, at least with disk golf you can get an idea of what it is from putting the two words together. What the hell is a…a…” He laughed and popped his forehead with the palm of his hand. “Shit, I can’t even remember it now.”

                “IT Solutions Integration Consultant.”

                “Yea, that. What is an IT…Solutions…whatever?”

                “Well, basically I show companies how much better they’d run with state-of-the-art computers, help them set them up, and then follow up months later to prove I was right.”

                “And have you ever been wrong?”

                “Hu?”

                “You know; like have you ever told some company these new computers would make everything better and it turned out they didn’t?”

                Kaylee folded her arms smugly. “Not yet.”

                Brandon raised his paper McDonald’s cup as though making a toast. “Well then, here’s to being good at what you do.”

                Kaylee toasted him with her coffee. The steam no longer rose from the opening. It was getting cold because she was ignoring it, much like her spreadsheet and her soon approaching client. “Are you going to be here for a few minutes?” she asked.

                “I don’t eat too fast, so yea. Why?”

                “I need to go to the bathroom. Would you watch my stuff while I’m gone?”

                Brandon popped a couple of fries into his mouth. “You bet,” he replied without swallowing first.

                “Thanks.” Kaylee stood. She watched his eyes as she moved, hoping to see them following her. Brandon stuck his straw into his mouth, but still let his eyes follow her as she made her way back across the terminal hallway. The bathroom was right across from the restaurant. Kaylee ducked around the white tile wall. A row of mirrors and sinks stretched out to her right with a series of stall doors to her left.

A click echoed off the walls as the far stall door opened. An older woman with silver hair and thick glasses emerged and Kaylee held her breath. This wasn’t an uncommon scenario for her, and luckily it was rare for things to end badly, especially these days. To her relief, the woman just smiled and made her way to the nearest sink, allowing Kaylee to slip into the now vacant stall.

She closed the door, pulled down her panties, and after checking to make sure the seat was clean, sat down. She might have been neglecting her coffee when Brandon showed up, but he hadn’t been there for the first two cups she sucked down on the way to the airport. Her eyes rolled back and a smile crossed her face as she did her business, but it was more than just the bladder relief making her so happy. Her hands gripped her knees as a shiver of excitement ran up her back.

“I don’t think he knows I’m transgender,” she whispered softly.

As Kaylee cleaned up, a chorus of chatter echoed in the bathroom. At least four women had entered, and she could tell they were gathered around the sinks. The girls discussed routine positions and music selections. Must be a cheerleader troupe traveling to a meet. She lingered for a while as they talked. Kaylee never liked emerging into a crowded bathroom. It meant too many eyes on her, too many people who might figure out she wasn’t cis.

She felt nervous. Brandon was still watching her stuff. What if he was getting aggravated? What if he needed to get going? What if he didn’t want to talk anymore when she got back? Hey, Kaylee, you also have a client arriving any second who might not want you hiding in the bathroom either. Their topics change but their feet don’t move. Kaylee sighed as she realized they’d be in there a while. She’d have to move through them on her way out. She stood, pulled her panties up, and opened the door.

The cluster of teenagers looked at her, but she didn’t look back, only keeping their forms in her peripheral vision as she moved. She was a full foot taller than most of them. Kaylee forwent washing her hands, not wanting to give them the chance to study the six-one trans woman who just came out of the stall. Kaylee slipped back around the dividing wall and into the busy terminal. She breathed a sigh of relief; glad it was over.

To her added joy, Brandon was still there. His burger sat half-eaten in the paper box with his fries dumped in the lid. He was leaned back in his chair, legs wide apart with his left foot tapping against the floor. He saw her emerge and smiled, seeming genuinely happy to see her again. Kaylee pulled her seat out and sat back down. The screen on her laptop had timed out and gone blank, but the small lights on the side still flickered.

“While you were gone some businessy guy came looking for you,” he said.

Kaylee’s eyes went wide and she gasped. “Where did he go?!” She was sure the clients plane hadn’t landed yet.

“He stormed off that way,” Brandon answered while pointing. “Kept shouting something about you being late.”

“Oh no!” Kaylee panicked. “I have to…!”

Brandon laughed full and deep. His left hand slapped his knee. “Just kidding! Wow, you are really tense.”

Kaylee exhaled and slumped back in her chair. “You’re an ass!” she said playfully.

“I got to play a joke on you,” he said with a grin. “Consider it my reward for watching your stuff.”

“Well, I hope you got what you wanted out of it.”

“I did,” he replied. “You’re kinda cute when you look surprised.”

She knew she was blushing. Oh, how she didn’t want to be blushing. Her cheeks felt hot and instinct told her to turn away, but the action only made it more noticeable. Though his mouth was half-full of French fries, Brandon pointed and laughed. “Ah! But you’re even cuter when you’re embarrassed!”

“Stop it,” she said playfully. She absolutely didn’t want him to actually stop. He was flirting with her; a cis, supposedly straight guy was flirting with her. It was a new experience for sure. She’d been hit on in the past, but only by gay guys in queer bars thinking she was a drag queen or assholes with a trans fetish. More than once she’d been asked by some douchebag to show him her “lady dick”, and it repulsed her. This felt genuine. This felt like a dream, and she didn’t want it to end.

“You…you think I’m cute?” she asked. Jesus Christ, I sound like a fucking teenager! I should go back in the bathroom and talk about cheerleading with those kids at the sink.

“Am I being too forward?” he asked. “All joking aside, I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“Oh no…I’m just…honestly not used to being flirted with.” Did I really just say that? “I mean, if that’s what you were doing.”

He gave a coy smile. “I guess I was, though I can’t believe you don’t get it often. Is it because you’re like, really tall?”

She’d tried to take sip of coffee then; it was only lukewarm by now. The mention of her height almost made her choke on it. She set the cup back down in time to see his brow raise.

“Shit, that was probably rude.”

“No, it’s fine.” In truth, it was fine. It was an excuse she could roll with without exposing her transition. “I’ve always been the tall girl in every group. But hey, it means I can reach everything in my kitchen!”

He laughed, and it made her laugh. Lost in the moment, she almost didn’t notice her phone buzzing in her purse. She pulled it out and tapped the fingerprint print reader. When the screen lit up, she saw a text that read, ‘Getting off plane now.’ Her client had landed. It was time to get back to work.

“By the look in your eyes that duty calling,” Brandon said.

“Yea,” she said with a defeated sigh. “I really enjoyed talking to you.”

“Well, I’d love to keep in touch,” he said. Her heart soared. He had a genuine interest in her. Her trembling fingers fished around in her purse for the packet of business cards. She slid one out and gave it to him.

“Here’s my info,” she said.

“Jesus, so professional.” Brandon studied the card with exaggerated fascination, as if it were an alien artifact. “I don’t have anything this fancy, but I can scribble my number on a napkin.”

She laughed again. “Just text me at that number. That will be fine.”

He grinned. The fluorescent lighting in the ceiling reflected off his green eyes, and it made her shiver all over again. “I’ll definitely do that.” He stood and collected his trash together on the tray. “Very nice to meet you, Kaylee.” He took her hand again and shook it gently.

“You as well, Brandon. Good luck in your disk golf tournament. I’m sure you’ll get lots of…points? Do you get points in this game or…?

He laughed a little. “I’ll text you the Wikipedia link on it. That will be your homework.” At that, they parted ways. Kaylee tucked her laptop under her arm and headed back into the terminal. She saw dozens of people emerging from gate 14, where her client’s plane had landed. Kaylee felt like she was walking on a cloud. A surge of newfound confidence powered her every step. As a balding, portly man in a black suit and green tie emerged from the gate, she met him by the information desk with her hand confidently outstretched.

“Mr. Barren?” she asked.

“That’s me,” the man replied.

“My name is Kaylee Burgess,” she said in an authoritative yet welcoming tone. “I’m here to welcome Barren Industries to the Digital Corporate Solutions family.”

Transgender: The Eternal Cycle of Pretending

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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

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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

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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.