Trans is not a Costume

Hello friends.  Happy October!

For those of you who don’t know me personally, or semi-well, let me tell you a little factoid about me: I LOVE OCTOBER.

October is a great month. All of the following contribute to why I think it’s the best month of the year:

  1. My birthday is in October. Duh.
  2. Halloween is in October.  I have a deep, long love for Halloween– it’s my favorite holiday pretty much since birth. I was also supposed to be born on Halloween. It is also just a great f*cking holiday because it involves costumes, over indulgence, pumpkin art, and parties.
  3. It is called October because under the original Roman calendar, it was the 8th month of the year (before July and August were added– thanks Ceasar boys!)

IMG_7064I love October because Halloween, and I love Halloween because costumes. I delight in planning and executing my costume each year and anyone who knows me can attest that I tend to have some pretty good ones.  So imagine how bummed I was when I stumbled upon this photo in my Facebook feed today.

UGH. SERIOUSLY? SERIOUSLY.

This is super not okay.  Really, it’s not. Dressing up as pre-transition or post-transition Caitlyn Jenner (not as Bruce, because it’s pretty rude to Dead Name people) is not okay.  Spirit Halloween store (where the photo was taken) cannot try to make this okay by calling it “Celebrating an American Icon.”  Caitlyn Jenner is not one of the founding fathers or Abraham Lincoln, or any other “American Icon” folks dress up as for Halloween.  She is a living breathing person. She is a person who has had the hefty job of coming out as transgender under the scrutiny of the free internet-reality tv-loving world.

Yes, she is brave. Yes, she could be considered a hero. But you know and I know that is not what this Halloween costume is about.  If that were true, we would have Amelia Earhart and Harriet Tubman costumes for sale to the mainstream public, too.  No, this is about us collectively mocking Caitlyn by empowering cisgender men to emulate her.  We, as Americans, are so threatened by Caitlyn’s transition and our collective masculinity is so fragile that we must bring her down a notch in order to put ourselves at ease.  We must remind ourselves that she’s really just a man in a dress, right? We definitely must make her un-sexy– she was getting to hot for comfort.

And maybe, just maybe, on some level, it makes those who choose to don that costume feel a little bit softer, a little bit sexier.  If we pretend we are making fun of her, then it’s okay to be feminine and pretty, and we can have our cake and eat it too. I get it– sometimes doing something different, something forbidden is hot. But you know what?  If that’s it, then just buy any other female-designed costume in Spirit and get your kicks.  Be a sexy nurse.  Be a Bunny.  Be Catwoman (boy you know you want to put on that jumpsuit).

Don’t pretend to be a real, live trans person who has gone to great lengths to become her true self and to not be exactly what you want her to be, which is just some guy in a dress.  She is a human– even if she doesn’t care personally, there are trans kids out there watching you.  They see you laughing at her. They internalize it.  It hurts them.  Bullying is deadly for trans kids.  Suicide is common.  This normalizes mocking and joking about trans people.  It normalizes cruel jokes.  This. Is. Not. Okay.

If you know anyone contemplating this choice, please educate them. We must do better, and if everyone who knows better speaks up, we will. Be excellent to each other.

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The Fragility of Masculinity

I saw a post on Buzzfeed the other day about gendered products and how they show the fragility of masculinity.  It was hilarious. Really, if you haven’t seen it, you should see it. GO HERE.

It’s important to laugh, but also to recognize that these ridiculous things make money. Believe me, companies wouldn’t do it if it didn’t make money. Which means even though we laugh, we are buying it. If you have kids and you’ve ever wondered where they get some of their ideas about gender (“because I would never tell my child that only boys/girls could do ____”), looking at these products might be a reminder of how gendered the world is and how much you can’t filter that out.

But you know what? I have found myself falling for it too. I bought lotion the other day, I bought the “MAN” lotion. I tell myself it’s because it doesn’t smell flowery, or like a grandma. At least the “MAN” lotion smells better. But even if it was scent-free, I probably would still pick the man lotion. Ugh.  I went to visit friends recently and they confessed they spent 5 minutes trying to decide which color shower pouf to buy for me because they didn’t want to give me something “girly.” And then we laughed another 5 minutes about how ridiculous that is.

The fragility of masculinity is why, I think, people are so afraid of trans folks.  Trans women prove that masculinity can be undone. It is possible to actually shed yourself of all that makes up “manhood” and to become the ultimate picture of femininity. See, e.g. Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner, Chloie Jonsson. Is it because there’s proof that masculinity is not unassailable? And that if someone like a CHAMPION ATHLETE AND OLYMPIAN could embrace and embody their femininity, then it could happen to anyone?

And to be sure, trans men get their share of it too. I get SO MANY comments from cisgender men like “OMG your beard is even better than mine…” or “Wow, you can bench press more than me….” said in a tone of voice that indicates the speaker is realizing that masculinity is not something that is only inborn. It can be attained. It can be chosen– and it can be disregarded. How incredibly scary that must be for someone who is used to just thinking that they have some kind of natural advantage because they’re born male.

I mean, for some dudes, their maleness is the only real thing they have.  Our entire culture is built on this idea that biologically, males are naturally superior to females. When we start shaking that idea down, pointing to people who don’t want it, don’t need it, or gained it through taking some generic hormones, and those people who have nothing else to cling to, they can’t handle it. If they recognize that even that could be broken, undone, or simply put on, then they have nothing.

Truth is, all those products pictured in the Buzzfeed article showed us just how delicate masculinity is and has been for a really long time.

—————————————

Interestingly enough, chemically, masculinity is VERY fragile.  I went to a 1/2 dose of testosterone for 3 weeks, and in that time I lost strength, became tired and grumpy, and generally felt pretty terrible.  Recently went back to old dose and feel 100000000000000 times better almost immediately.

See? It’s fragile. Let’s break that shit to pieces and recognize that it all means nothing and definitely doesn’t make anyone superior.

Revisionist History: Talking About Life Pre-Transition

imageHow do you talk about your life before transition honestly?

For me, this is a hard question that could have real potential negative ramifications.

If I refer to myself in the past as a “little boy,” and then people find out later that I am trans, I run the risk of looking like an outright liar at worst, and perhaps disingenuous at best. I would hate for folks to think that I am purposely recasting myself in a way that might make me seem untrustworthy or, even worse, fake. I pride myself on being authentic in my life and I don’t want people to think my transition and my trans identity is not authentic.

There is also the concern for safety. If I refer to my past “when I was a little girl,” I out myself in a way that opens me up to attack, whether physical or otherwise.

This also would feel perhaps disingenuous. Truthfully, I never made a very good “little girl,” as defined by our culture. I never got that mold. And I am not just talking about wearing dresses or playing with dolls (nope to both). I never really identified with other girls, either. I tried to learn how to talk like a girl, care about girl things, get along with other girls, and I never did a good job. I never felt like I fit in, never really understood what the big fuss was ever about.

And this is not just about social gender roles and stereotyping. Even when I hung out with very non-normative women and girls, progressive women and girls, radical women and girls– I still felt like an other. I have learned to love women, and I have many women in my life that I love, but I was never one of them.

When I refer to my pre-transition life, especially my life as a child, I usually call myself a “kid.” You know, “When I was a kid, I loved to play four square with my friends…”
That sentence loses nothing by saying kid instead of girl. I was a kid. My gender assigned at birth changes nothing about the significance that four square played in my life.

But there are other situations that kid is insufficient for. When I talk about my 13th birthday party, when I invited over my “best girl friends” for a 1970s-themed slumber party, where we made tie dye t-shirts and watched “Now and Then,” that story might lose something if I say I had a bunch of other kids staying the night. There is something about that experience that I think cannot be explained by taking the “girl” element away, despite all my feelings about not really ever fitting in.

There’s also the aspect of my female socialization that, although perhaps ill-fitting at times, has been an unshakeable part of my personality that will never be undone. Being raised and socialized female taught me a compassion for other people that I doubt I would have otherwise. It taught me how to listen when others talk, how to help those in need, how to put other people’s needs above my own, and other things I probably won’t uncover for years.

I may not have fit in with my female past identity, but the lessons that socialization taught me will remain with me forever. I am still trying to figure out how to honor my past and the gifts it gave me, while taking time to de-emphasize gender in those moments when gender is irrelevant to what I am trying to convey. It’s an art, I suppose, and I am learning as I go.

If you are a friend or family member of a trans person, do try to be sensitive to talking about someone’s past. Try using gender neutral statements like “when you were little,” “when you were a child,” etc. Let the person define how they will discuss their childhood– and don’t be offended if they say they would prefer not to talk about it. Childhood can be very traumatic for trans people and if they haven’t yet figured out how to talk about it, they might just want to skip it altogether.

Remember, be most excellent to each other.

The Trans Healthcare Gap

In exactly a week, I’m having surgery. More specifically, I’m having what is known as “top surgery,” which is female-to-male chest reconstruction surgetumblr_inline_mxmeg4kxqA1snsabvry. The procedure is fairly common for FTM trans folk, and the surgeon I am seeing has done about 300 of them in the last few years.

The procedure is performed by plastic surgeons, whose main practice is usually breast implants, Botox, face lifts, etc.  To be honest, it was a little strange being in the waiting room of the facility, which felt more like the reception area of a Massage Envy location than a surgery center.  Warm brown tones, low lighting, candles and scented oil diffusers, overstuffed chairs, etc.  The staff wear all black and little name tags.  There was probably a fountain filled with river rocks somewhere.

Everyone was lovely.  The surgeon is a very nice man who I guess is in his late 40s– but then again, he is  a plastic surgeon.  He was in good shape and seemed lively, not like the very nervous/stressed/bro-y three surgeons I had met with previously.  No, this doctor made me feel comfortable immediately.

The first thing he said was “I’m really excited about this.” I asked him why and he told me that FTM chest surgeries are his favorite procedures to do. I asked him why that was.  I’m not sure what I thought he was going to say, but in my head, I was thinking “at $5k + a pop, I bet they’re your favorite!”  Instead, the doctor said:

“Every one of my patients comes here because there is something about themselves they’re unhappy with.  But what I do for trans guys is different.  There’s something about helping someone realize who they truly are. They are the happiest of all my patients, which makes me happy.”

Okay, McDreamy, you can stay.

We talked over how things would go, he took some photos, drew all over me with red marker, and then left me with the nurses for the rest of the visit.  The nurses were super respectful and kind, and I could tell that they were used to having folks like me around.  I’m really excited.

As excited as I am, I also have a great deal of frustration going into this procedure. It has been a long, complicated road to get here.  That, friends, is the real focus of this post.

It used to be, not that long ago, that a trans person would have to see a psychiatrist/psychologist for a year before being able to start hormones.  Then, surgeons usually required a year of hormones and living out as your true gender before they would do anything, and even then you had to have two letters of recommendation from healthcare professionals to certify that you *really are trans* and you’re not crazy.

Thank goodness, this model of “care” has gone by the wayside.  As policies toward trans healthcare have changed, the process has become shorter, if not simpler. Under my insurance, which covers hormones and surgery (more on that in a minute), the only requirement is that I have a letter from one mental health professional certifying that I have gender identity disorder. No hormone requirement, no “out” requirement necessary.

Okay, insurance.  Health insurance is a bureaucratic mess at best and a nightmare at most for just about everyone.  Just imagine how hard it is when you have some medical condition that is 1. uncommon, and 2. socially unpopular.  Until 2014, insurance companies could outright refuse to cover any trans-related care, calling it a “pre-existing” condition.

In 2014, after the dust settled for the most part around the Affordable Care Act, some states began interpreting the ACA’s prohibition on gender-based discrimination and mandate to cover pre-existing conditions and issuing their own guidance requiring insurers in the state to cover transgender-related care. Thankfully, California is one of those states.  New York recently joined the fray.

So theoretically, my care should be covered by all insurance that operates in California.  Except, my work uses a “privately funded” insurance plan, which means it gets to control what is and is not covered, not the state. And wouldn’t you know– trans care is not covered.  I raised a stink about this and HR is “working on it.” Truthfully, they’ve never had a trans employee (that they know of) and so they never had to consider transition-related care. Hopefully my struggles with this will help make it easier for the next trans person at my firm.

So I had to drop my work healthcare and enroll in Covered California, the CA branch of Obamacare. EVERY SINGLE PLAN COVERED TRANS CARE! I picked my PPO, double-checked all the paperwork to make sure surgery is covered, and immediately sought out a surgeon who could do it.

Wouldn’t you know, there are NO SURGEONS who do top surgery who also take insurance. None (except for Kaiser, which has their own plastic surgeons). I even called the insurance company to see if they could somehow figure out if any of their customers had ever actually had the procedure done, and if so, where they went.  No such luck.  And just imagine my trying to describe my situation and top surgery to the poor customer service lady that answered the phone…

A friend of mine who is in medical school at the moment told me that plastic surgery (“plastics,” she calls it) is the most competitive residency out of med school. It’s no secret that plastic surgeons make tons of dough, so I guess that is a big part of the reason why.  Because they perform services that are largely “elective,” plastic surgeons exist almost entirely outside of the insurance world, because insurance simply doesn’t cover cosmetic procedures. There are also only a few surgeons that do top surgery for trans guys, so they pretty much have control over the market.

So, even though I have insurance that covers this procedure, I cannot get it covered because there are no doctors that actually take insurance. It is a gap in the policy and practice of trans healthcare that begs to be closed. However, as the market stands, surgeons have little incentive to get in-network with insurance carriers because there are plenty of trans guys that scrimp and save to be able to fork over the $5-15k it costs to have the surgery done.

I am fortunate to have a job and a support network that can make paying for this on my own possible. But the reality is that most trans people can’t afford surgical procedures or hormone therapy without insurance coverage.I can only hope that some doctors and surgeons see this gap between policy and practice, and take the steps to get affiliated with insurance networks, even if it ends up being just out of the goodness of their own hearts. The trans community could really use the help.

Rachel Dolezal is Not Like Me.

Unless you are living on another planet (or perhaps studying for the California Bar Exam), you’ve likely heard the story of Rachel Dolezal, the NAACP officer and college professor from Eastern Washington who, for the last decade, has apparently pretended to be an African-American woman when she is, in fact, white.

Dolezal has not only represented herself as a woman of color, but she’s based her professional career on this fact as well, even being paid to speak on the topic of race and her experience as a minority woman.

I am not even going to speculate here as to why she did what she did– I’m not a psychologist, which is what I truly think she needs. I guess I can understand why someone who was seeking attention somehow might think that pretending to be a minority would instantly give her a soapbox to speak on, but even this is hard to swallow.

What Dolezal did was selfish. She exercised her white privilege to decide to be a woman of color, and then took jobs at an institution of higher learning and the nation’s most well-known advocacy groups dedicated to advancing the rights of African-Americans. You know, jobs that probably otherwise would have gone to actual people of color.

In the aftermath of the Dolezal reveal, some people have been comparing her to Caitlyn Jenner. After all, if Caitlyn can be born into a different body and decide to transition as a way of expressing her true identity, then can’t a white woman decide that her true identity is that of a person of color, and then change her outside to reflect that reality?

The answer to that question is no.

1. First, trans people are still a persecuted minority.  Yes, African-Americans are too in many ways, but in many places in this country trans people have no legal protection at all. Some places are even still trying to create special laws just for trans people, like trying to tell us which bathrooms we can and can’t use.  Trans people can be fired, evicted, and any number of other terrible things just because they’re trans, which is something that our laws forbid when it comes to race (at least on paper).   Trans people also have a high incidence of suicide, because being trans is stressful and challenging and very much demonized in many places.  No one would pretend to be trans if they were not trans.

2. Rachel Dolezal is not expressing her “true self,” the way transgender people are. Transgender people aren’t “pretending” anything– if nothing else, they’re attempting to be their most authentic selves. I’m not pretending to be a trans man, I AM a trans man.  Drag performers “pretend” to be another gender.

3. Dolezal’s costume is one that she can take off or put back on as she pleases, whenever it gives her the greatest benefit. When you’re trans, you’re trans when it’s easy and when it’s hard and there is no way to switch this up.

4. The world needs people to be allies and sympathizes, not imitators and appropriators. Both racial and sexual minorities need folks who passionately identify with our struggle to sit right where they are and say “I don’t think this is okay and neither should you” to all the other non-minorities in the room. Pretending to be one of us destroys credibility and distracts from the conversations that need to happen instead.

I’m Here and I’m (Still) Queer!

I was walking my dogs this morning in DTLA, and as I crossed an intersection, a downloadsuper cute lesbian couple passed me going in the opposite direction. They were holding hands, happy, smiling, and laughing. I made eye contact with one of them and smiled. It was the “hey, I’m a lesbian, too” knowing smile, which I have given thousands of times over the years. It was the look of “hey we’re part of the same club” that you give to others who are also different like you.

And you know what? Neither one of them even gave me a second thought. No return smile, no nod of the head, no recognition of the traits we share as LGBT people. And then I realized, yet again, that no one can tell I am queer anymore. Before transition, I realized this was likely to happen, but I couldn’t have fully understood how much it would bother me until it did.

First, I know that some of you dear readers still live in places in this world where using the word “queer” is considered an insult or a slur. I am sorry for that. I have had many long conversations with folks like you (even folks that themselves fit under the queer umbrella) who just feel uneasy when they hear the word queer. For the purposes of this article then you can just pretend I’m saying “gay” and it will be okay. We can have another discussion about the awesomeness of the word queer later.

So yes, I identify as queer, and have since I was a teenager. Pre-transition, I suppose the world might have labeled me a lesbian. I never used that word to describe myself, however, because it never really fit. I was female-born, but since I never really identified as a woman, the word lesbian, which by definition is a female-loving-female, never felt right.

Plus, I have never been exclusively interested in women. I have had my moments of being interested in men, too, but not to the point where I felt bi-sexual was really appropriate either. Bisexual (like homosexual and heterosexual) also sounds so clinical to me. So for me, queer was it. It was devoid of gender implications, but conveyed the idea that I was something other than heterosexual. I like that.

Pre-transition, it was very clear that I was the sort of person who was attracted to women. The last time anyone asked me if I had a boyfriend was in 1999. There is a certain comfort that comes with being the kind of person that people identify as queer right off the bat– I always felt like I fit in at queer events (dance parties, pride celebrations, rallies, etc.) without having to explain my sexuality to anyone. I wore it on my sleeve and that worked just fine for me.

I was a member of the lesbian community for 17 years (WOW THAT MAKES ME FEEL OLD) and it is a huge part of my story. I have seen all the movies, know the singer-songwriters, the inside jokes, the secret handshake, etc. There was actually a time in my life, when I lived in Seattle, that I actually had only lesbian friends. Though it was full of drama, it was also an amazing community that I still miss from time to time.

And now that I pass as male, all that appears to be lost– at least to the outside world. There’s no way for me to walk around looking like I do and to still have the outside world know that inside my head is a brain that was socialized queer for more than half my life. I’m not sure yet what, if anything, I can or need to do to feel at peace with this. Transitioning has brought its progress, its gains. But not without its losses.

Welcome to a New World– How Society Treats You When You “Pass” and Other Oddities

Skimming Facebook this morning, I saw several friends posted a link to a BRILLIANT piece Jon Stewart did on the Caitlyn Jenner reveal. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to watch. I won’t repeat any of Jon’s commentary here, except to say that he rightly points out that, now that Caitlyn Jenner is presenting as female, she will be treated as a typical female (not in a good way) by the media covering her story. His presentation of this phenomenon is amazing. WATCH IT.

It got mehey-girl thinking about all the ways that my ability to “pass” as male has changed how people treat me. I am white, educated, and grew up middle class. I stand a little over 5’7″ and am in shape (though it is strange to go from being a “tall-ish, but big” female to a “short-ish, but strong-for-his-size” dude). In just the few short months that I have been in this phase of my transition, where I am overwhelmingly read and treated as a straight (SO F*CKING WEIRD. I HAVE NEVER BEEN STRAIGHT BEFORE), white male, I have noticed a pretty big change in how people allow me to move around in this world.

It turns out, male privilege is a thing. And now I have it. And that is totally, totally weird. I feel guilty about having it, but also realize that now that I have it, I have some enhanced ability to call it out and work to undo it. And so I shall. Here are some of the best examples of that privilege at work.

1. I am never afraid to leave my house alone. I am generally not the type of person who worries too much about my surroundings when I’m by myself. I am physically not really the type to be picked on, I usually have dogs with me, and I have lived in some sketchy places before (just ask my mom), so I’m used to that. But now that the world sees me as a man, I am comfortable by myself in most situations. I was walking around in a hoodie and sweatpants, with my headphones in the other day. I must have been looking particularly surly, because an older woman saw me and actually crossed the street to get away from me. Seriously– I have gone from “potential target” to “potential aggressor.”

2. I can exist in public without being a subject of commentary or criticism based on my appearance. I’m allowed to dress how I want, walk how I want, I don’t have to shave, smile, or engage in conversation if I don’t want to, and no one has anything to say about it. This is a stark contrast from the days when strangers on the street would comment on my outfits, or tell me to “smile more,” or catcall me.

3. I’m allowed to have body hair. This is a tough one for me. I never was really big on body hair before– my Nordic genes include the blessing of mostly-blonde fuzz, so I could be relaxed about shaving my legs and such without much issue. But I always felt pressured still to keep everything in check, for the most part. Now, I totally have the freedom to be as hairy as I want. I am still trying to make peace with this– after looking at yourself for 31 years with one standard in mind, looking down at hairy legs, hairy arm pits, and increasingly-hairy everything else has taken a lot of getting used to. Still not sure how I feel about facial hair, but it helps me pass, so it stays for now. Had I made similar decisions pre-transition I would have been labeled a “hippie dyke” or worse. Ridiculous.

4. I can eat and drink whatever I want and no one tries to make me feel bad about it. You know, because men are allowed more leeway when it comes to being in shape, or indulging. I’m not expected to “keep my figure,” and in fact, when I do comment about being on a diet or watching what I eat, other men respond with comments meant to make me feel bad or less-than because I don’t want a giant cheeseburger and large fries and Hooters wings and tons of beer all the time.

5. I have less sexual liability. I could literally sleep with as many people as I want to– male or female– and get zero push-back. In fact, I might even get props from other dudes. When I talk about sex, no one (except my doctor) reminds me to “be safe” or “be smart.” I am not judged negatively for talking openly about sex, or sexual partners.

6. I am not subject to “soft sexism.” Being asked to grab someone their coffee or to help clean up after a meeting/gathering/party no longer exists.

I am sure that this list will grow with time– after all, it’s only been a few months that I am in this position, and most people I interact with regularly know me as a trans person. More experiences with folks who don’t know will surely only expand upon the privilege I’m afforded. Meanwhile, folks like Caitlyn Jenner lose much of their individuality and become another “thing to be discussed” by virtue of their transition to female.

Our culture is very strange. Let’s work on that.

How to Talk about Transgender People

I have seen lots (and I mean101 LOTS) of positive outpouring of support for Caitlyn Jenner after her big reveal yesterday. This is heartening and gives me so much hope for the future for trans folk in this country, and eventually the World.

We can’t just talk about trans issues and trans people. We have to talk about the way we talk about trans issues and trans people. The ACLU did an excellent piece today that highlights why we shouldn’t let the conversation stop with discussing how fabulous Jenner looks, without also discussing how hard it is for 99% of trans people to ever attain that level of care.

I’m here to address how the words we choose when talking about trans people affects the tone of conversations and impacts the way trans people are seen by non-trans people (also called cisgender people).

Here are some tips about what to say, what not to say, and things to think about when you’re having a conversation about, or with, a trans person.

Vocabulary

This article does an awesome job of explaining relevant terms like sex, gender, transgender, transsexual, cisgender, sexual reassignment surgery, etc.

Friendly Tips for Interacting With Trans People

  • Don’t assume a transgender person’s sexual orientation
    Gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is who we are attracted to. Gender identity is about our own personal sense of being male or female. There are straight and gay trans people just like there are straight and gay cisgender people.
  • Don’t guess if someone is transgender just by looking
    Transgender people all look different. They may or may not appear “visibly trans.” You should assume there may be transgender people at any gathering. If you meet someone and you are generally not sure what their gender identity is, you can respectfully ask them “What is your preferred gender pronoun?” See below.
  • Don’t assume someone is a he or she – listen first
    If you’re not sure which pronoun to use, listen to people who know that person well. If you need to ask the person what they prefer, start with yourself. “Hi, I’m Joe and I prefer the pronoun he or him. What about you?” If you accidentally use the wrong pronoun, apologize with sincerity and move on.
  • Don’t ask what their “real name” is
    For some transgender people, being associated with their birth name is a source of anxiety. Respect the name they currently use. If you know the person’s birth name, don’t share it without his or her permission. Likewise, don’t share photos of someone before his or her transition without permission, and don’t ask to see any photos either.
  • Don’t assume everyone knows
    Be careful about outing someone. Knowing a transgender person’s status is personal. It is up to them to share it.
  • Don’t ask about a transgender person’s genitals, surgical status, or sex life
    You wouldn’t ask a non-transgender person about these issues, it’s just as inappropriate to ask a transgender person about these things.
  • Don’t offer backhanded compliments or “helpful” tips:
    • “I would never have known you were transgender. You look so pretty.”
    • “You look like a real woman.”
    • “She’s so gorgeous, I would never have guessed she was transgender.”
    • “He’s so hot, I’d date him even though he’s transgender.”
    • “You’d pass so much better if you wore less/more make-up, had a better wig, etc.”
    • “Have you considered a voice coach?”

Thanks for listening, friends! Be most excellent to each other.

And Then There are the Bathrooms….

*This is a general post about the politics of using bathrooms. I am not addressing the Transgender Bathroom Laws here– that deserves its own post.*

I haven’t been comfortable in a public, multi-stall restroom since 2011, which was the last time I went to Union Hall in Brooklyn, which has gender-neutral multi-stall bathrooms for everyone. Other than that, the only time I am really relaxed about using the bathroom in public is when I can use a single-person, gender neutral facility (like Starbucks).

Before transitioning, I used women’s restrooms. Because I was very male-presenting, my presence was often met with shock (like when women would enter the restroom, see me washing my hands, and would immediately leave because they thought they’d walked into the men’s room. LOL.), sometimes with outright hostility.

I had a 60+ year old woman walk up to me while I was in line in the ladies’ room at LAX and say “Excuse me, are you in the right place?” I was particularly grumpy and I replied “Lady, I would have to be the biggest idiot to be standing here in line with a bunch of women if I didn’t belong in here. Do you want to see my vagina?” THE LOOK ON HER FACE WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT.

As upsettinrestroom-signs-e-meng as my ladies’ room experiences were, the thought of going into the men’s room was scarier because of the prospect of physical violence. Needless to say, when I began transitioning, I was really excited when I started “passing” well enough to use the men’s room.

It turns out, men’s rooms come with their own challenges. First, there are new rules to learn.

1. Never make eye contact (you know, because of the gayness of eye contact in a place where you go to relieve yourself).
2. Do not speak to anyone else in the restroom, even if you know them. Must wait until you exit.
3. Be as disgusting as possible. (Okay, this isn’t a rule, per se, but you’d think so if you saw what I’m talking about.)

Second, there are many different configurations of men’s rooms and you have to think on your feet. Will there even be stalls? If so, will they have a door? Or will the toilets be working? How do you gracefully exit a bathroom once you walk in and realize there is nowhere for you to actually pee? I went into a single-person, designated men’s room at a grungy bar in Hollywood on Friday. It had a toilet (yay!) but the toilet was DUCT TAPED SHUT. I ended up having to squat backwards over the urinal. What would I have done if there wasn’t a door I could close and lock?

OH MY GOD MEN’S BATHROOMS THOUGH. Seriously, guys. Seriously. What is it about having a designated “man zone” that means that you can completely disregard all sense of sanitation and decency? The book The Lord of the Flies comes to mind when I consider the forces at play in a typical men’s public restroom.

The baffling thing is that I have used the bathroom in men’s homes, and they are NEVER as gross as a public men’s room.  What gives? I wonder if the state of public men’s restrooms is a greater commentary on our culture? Do men feel so put-upon by women in their lives generally that they actively rebel against all the forces that would tell them “Throw your paper towel in the trash can!” or “Don’t leave a giant puddle of pee on the floor!” by conducting themselves like animals that were poorly house-trained?

Or is it a symptom of groupthink? “I would normally pick that paper towel up, but since there is already a pile of them on the floor, I’ll just leave it….”  I may never know the answer to this question, but I will continue to ask it until someone gives me an answer that isn’t “It’s because men are just gross.” We, as humans, are better than that.

Trans* is not One Story

People ask me frequently what it feels like now to “be in the right body.” This question always throws me off some, for a few reasons. One is that I never really felt like I was in the wrong body, per se. Another reason is that I can tell this question is a symptom of our culture’s fixation on the dominant trans* narrative, that is, the story of a Person-Who-Always-Knew-Something-Was-Wrong. I bet if you ask most people to describe what it means for someone to be trans*, they will articulate some version of this:

Person is born. At a young age, Person begins telling the world “I’m not a This, I’m a That!” Person starts acting out on their desires to be a That. Person struggles with unhappiness until at some point, Person’s Parents pursue therapy/treatment, and then Person gets to live as they wish.

While that story line may indeed describe a good number of trans* folks, it is certainly not the only way to be trans*. It took me 10 years to realize that trans* means different things to different people, and that yes, you can still be trans* even if you didn’t think you were born in the wrong body when you were 3 years old.

I am incredibly lucky to be transitioning when I am. I have this realization almost daily– every time I see a news feature or a Facebook post, I realize how much more accepted being trans* is in most parts of the US today than it was 10 years ago when I first contemplated this whole process. At the time, I was living in TX and I knew exactly 1 trans* person. His name was Eli and he had, from what I could gather, a pretty tough go of it. His experience played heavily in my decision not to pursue gender transition physically for a long time.

But also a huge part of that delay was that I bought into the myth that there is only One Trans Story. In hindsight, it is of course pretty ridiculous to think that, as a queer person who had seen lots of different types of other queer people, that I believed that being transgender was much less fluid. But I did– and not really knowing any trans* folks, how was I supposed to know any different. I was, for the most part, okay with my body from a dysphoria standpoint. I wasn’t crazy about my chest, but that’s mostly because boobs got in the way of sports and other things I enjoyed. I am happy with the original plumbing I have been given, so no real issues there. My dysphoria exists in the smaller details– the amount of muscle I could build, the way my clothes would hang, the types of dress and mannerisms I was expected to have. It took a long time of getting to know a lot of other trans* folks before I realized that my feelings about my own identity were just as worthy of the trans* label as those young kids that go on Oprah to talk about being trans*.

I am grateful every day for the exposure that I see trans* issues getting in media. But I also wonder why none of that exposure really focuses on the variety of trans* experiences. I wonder if the reinforcement of the dominant One Trans Story isn’t actually, in some way, harming all those folks out there that might feel uncomfortable with their assigned gender, but don’t fit the mold of the Person-Who-Always-Knew-Something-Was-Wrong?

I am hopeful that the conversation will become more nuanced as time passes, as more trans* folks gain their voices and can speak to their experiences. But we are still a long ways away. So if you’re reading this, consider yourself exposed to a little slice of variety under the trans* umbrella, and please speak up if you hear someone saying that there is only one way to be trans*. 🙂