I remember first hearing about transgender people when I was eleven years old. So-and-so's 'father' had undergone a 'sex-change' operation. This was related to me through hushed, smiling voices, spoken in a tone of ridicule. 'He' had a mental illness, and we weren't supposed to mention it. I implicitly understood that this was an underlying fissure contributing to a broken family.
I think I spent about ten years in the closet, if you measure from the first time "gender" entered into my internal vocabulary for describing what was wrong with me. When I finally came out to everyone, right in the middle of Pride month, the idea of pride felt distant and unfamiliar -- all I had was shame.
I didn't look in mirrors, I told people it was okay to misgender me (after all, I knew what I looked like), and I had resigned myself to transitioning purely for my own sake, without expectation of validation from the outside world.
I stayed at home during the parade.
"Another common word I've heard transgender people use to describe themselves is 'monster.'"
Too many people feel this way. Even in the queer community, being transgender can be like being one of those fake Christmas trees -- pulled out and celebrated once a year, but largely kept in a corner in the basement, and not really seen as good as the "real thing."
I knew that transitioning would be like that. I expected it. I knew about the radical feminists who would hate me, and the straight cis men who would only see me through their own ego.
You might know that the number one word associated with being transgender is "dysphoria," a vague medicalized word used ascribed to transgender people to describe how mirrors and people you thought were your friends now make you cry.
But another common word I've heard transgender people use to describe themselves is "monster."
As I said, I knew to expect all that pain before I told a single person. But what nobody had prepared me for was the joy.
"Have you ever completely altered the course of your life to improve it and be more true to yourself?"
The first time I met someone who completely validated who I was, regardless of what I thought I looked like, or was wearing, or was talking like, I had the fleeting thought, "Maybe if I had just one day where everyone treated me like this, it would be enough."
And then that day came, and I was surprised to find that yes, it actually was enough.
There comes a point that someone calls you beautiful (or handsome, my trans men brothers), and you can see in their eyes that they actually mean it.
Your life starts turning into science fiction as people forget your old name, start talking about the old you as if it was another person, and when you meet new people they only know the right pronouns. They only know the real person.
You start looking in mirrors again. One day you find that even on the days when you disdainfully think you look too much like the wrong gender, you know that you're not. That you're real.
For me, it became not only a transformation of the body, but of the spirit. In the beginning, I attended LGBTQ events feeling like an outsider. Over time, I began to be pushed forward by the voices of queer PoC I always should have listened to, by bearing witness to stories from the queer elders who had lived through the AIDS crisis, by drinking in the anger of someone reciting a poem who was born the right gender and in the right body, but still feels like a monster.
A small feeling grew in me, like a smooth round stone you run your thumb over when you're a kid, a special thing I didn't know I could feel: Community.
"For many, coming out as transgender means that you're choosing to live in a more dangerous world [...] and that you'll inevitably be exposed to people who view your body with disgust. But for me, it also represents community with other queer women and the ever growing love for people who have faced struggles and still pushed on."
There are countless transgender people like me, whose lives are not ancient Greek tragedies, but comedies, moving from isolation to community. I increasingly find myself in a place where people will act patronizing and greet me with, "Hey, gorgeous LADY," if they know about me, or offer me help, or tell me they can't imagine how difficult my life is, when almost every day my life is better than it has ever been.
After all, have you ever completely altered the course of your life to improve it and be more true to yourself?
There was some point where I reflected on the idea of pride, and it had crept up on me, growing like a flower from that smooth round stone I'd been cradling. Yes, for many, coming out as transgender means you'll always have tension with your family, that you're choosing to live in a more dangerous world, and that you'll inevitably be exposed to people who view your body with disgust.
But for me, it also represents community with other queer women and the ever growing love for people who have faced struggles and still pushed on.
A few days ago I had a conversation with a well-meaning ally (?) who told me that if no one had been thrown out of their houses by their parents, if no one was called slurs in washrooms, that there would be no need for a LGBTQ community -- the community would be integrated and accepted into society at large.
I wasn't sure how to express it at the time, but after some thought I know why I took issue with the idea: What many people don't seem to understand is that queer community is often better.
We want to integrate you into our society.
I know that there are problematic elements even in the queer community, but for me, and the lovely people I have been lucky enough to meet since I came out, "intersectional feminism" is not a dirty phrase.
It is okay for men to cry. If there is someone facing something you don't understand, you are supposed to listen to them, and not talk over them. And being true to yourself, as I am learning to, is seen as beautiful.
This year I will be attending pride. If I'm lucky, maybe I'll meet someone new and show them how beautiful they are too.
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