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Transition 19: Pretty

My biggest fear about transitioning wasn’t rejection from my friends or being fired from my job. I worried about the health risks of hormones, but I accepted them as a trade off for becoming myself. I knew transitioning would be painful, physically as I did treatments to remove my facial/body hair and emotionally as my brain rewired due to estrogen. The one fear of transitioning which kept me from beginning was romantic love, the terror of ending up alone as a trans woman.

I researched transitioning and trans girl life before I started. At my core, I’m a very analytical girl, versed in reading medical journals, academic theorizing , and feminist thought. I read hundreds of articles from trans women about their lives, everything from sexuality to workplace harassment. The articles about romance and relationships were the most compelling to me. There seemed to be two sides of the conversation, trans women who found romantic love and trans women who ended up alone sexually and romantically. It was a stark polarized dynamic with a wide middle ground of trans girls who found some romantic love but struggled to find long term partners.

I’ve always been a romantic at heart. I’m a poet, so desire and romantic attraction have always figured into my inner landscape. More influential to my development as a person, romantic comedies have been a cornerstone of my identity since I was kid. One of the only female gendered activities I was allowed to do as a kid was watch romantic comedies with my sisters and mother. We started with Doris Day and old Hollywood classic romances before moving onto to Sleepless in Seattle, My Best Friend’s Wedding, and my favorite, You’ve Got Mail. I no longer have any contact with my sisters or mother but I still watch those movies and feel connected to them through the screen.

There was also the reality of the abuse I grew up with. I used to dream of being saved and taken away from my childhood home. As I grew older, that desire became a romantic one. Some day, I’d find someone who loved me and I would build my own family. I’ve never lost that dream, despite the ways I’ve learned to question the romantic ideal in Western society. I think there is a contradiction in how women are punished for desiring romantic attachment and the message from media that romantic love is the only way we can measure our success. There are so many memes and social media posts about women loving themselves first and valuing our independence while we bombarded with commercials, films, and music about romantic coupling.

I remember one of my friends telling me not to talk about being single in public because it made me sound ‘desperate’. No one is attracted to desperation, they said, you have to look like you have everything together and aren’t looking for anything. The ideal girlfriend is a girlfriend who doesn’t want to be loved, who is seduced and drawn into romantic love by a persistent guy who tricks her into falling in love despite her resistance. Actively seeking love is shameful, vulgar, and the opposite of how a woman should be. Don’t be that vulnerable clingy girl. Be strong willed, indifferent to your desire and needs.

I was talking with a guy I was romantically involved with last summer about this contradiction. He said it was a turn off if a girl is into you, just wasn’t fun anymore if she wanted you. I think this is a form of violence and an extension of toxic masculinity. Women can only be desirable when we don’t want it. When we say no, it’s an exciting conquest but when we say yes, we’re whores and too easy. The excitement of male desire is in the chase. A willing victim isn’t a worthy one. As a woman, acknowledging your romantic desire is a sign of weakness to prospective male partners, a warning sign that you’ll want too much from them.

This push and pull of being public about desire is one of the many new dynamics I’ve learned since transitioning. I quickly realized there was an entirely different script around male and female relationships and sex. I stumbled into it when I started dating guys as woman. From who texts who and what you say back to guys, there’s an inherent power dynamic in male/female relationships which I never experienced in gay male relations. I had to learn new ways of responding, sexually and romantically, to my partners. If I responded as I would have before transitioning, guys freaked out because it violated invisible rules of being a woman.

It was liberating to step into female expectations at first. I realized my main job was to perform femininity for my partners, dress up and wear makeup. Look pretty, laugh at their jokes, make them comfortable, assuage their vulnerabilities. Be aloof, act as if I didn’t care, wait hours before messaging back, deny I wanted to be loved. I recognize that not all heterosexual relations are like this, but honestly, it’s a fairly common standard across all kinds of het guys. I hear about it from my cis girlfriends and my trans girlfriends. It’s the script of romantic love, injecting itself into our lives whether we believe in it or not.

As a trans woman, I also realized there were many other scripts I had to perform for men. One script was the ‘trap’ girl, look as feminine as possible and be the hyper-sexual trans girl who has the sex drive of a man but the body of a woman. Be an experiment for men, a dangerous desire leading them down a dark path. Another script was the gender outlaw, be a social justice warrior princess outside of the rules of society. Be radical, don’t want conventional relationships,  and inspire men to transgress. The worst script, the one which dehumanized me the most, is the ‘not a real woman’ script.

I can sense when people are uncomfortable with me. It’s a survival technique most Queer and racialized people develop, a inherent sense of prejudice in others. With men, this has translated to me sensing when they see me as female or as some other thing. I often find men go between scripts with me, treating me as woman when they’re happy with me and treating me like a guy when they’re angry at me. I always knew trans women were seen as impostors by  a silent cis majority, as gay men who were so feminine that we transitioned. Not a real woman, because of our bodies and our past as men. A part time girl.

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My experience of this script has been the most painful part of my transition. Because I don’t just desire sex, because I am actively seeking romantic love, my relationships with men always place me in a vulnerable position. I find that many men, particularly Queer men and men from the political left, are supportive of trans women as a concept, but not as sexual or romantic partners. They support the idea of us existing, but don’t still don’t see us as women. They can never say this directly because they don’t want to be bigots, so they express it in a hundred indirect ways.

The challenge as a trans woman dating and seeking romantic love is you can’t tell if a guy sees trans women as women or if he’s acting out the part of a ‘good guy’. I discovered there is a group of men in Queer and feminist spaces who outwardly claim to be allies, but actually are just trying to sleep with/date Queer women (with vaginas only). They’re the kind of guys who say they’re not trans-phobic because they made out with a guy once or sucked a dick (actual conversation), but don’t see that defending their trans politics by telling you they’ve had same sex relations is inherently denying your womanhood. So you end up, as I have done several times now, getting romantically involved with guys who will never see you as a whole person and will never be comfortable with your body.

Because they’re playing out the role of being a ‘good guy’, they use the right pronouns but treat you as a second class girl. I spent a lot of time with one guy who was part of this ‘good guy, social justice, gender is a construct’ group of bros who said some of the most trans-phobic things to me. From ‘you don’t actually want to be a woman, do you?’ to ‘you’re asserting the identity of a woman’ to not speaking to me from 5 minutes when he saw without my clothes for the first time, every interaction with him made me feel like a fake woman. Even when I was on hormones and my body changed dramatically, he still didn’t see me as a woman. I remember talking to him about my breast growth (which has been very significant-pushing a B cup on a very petite frame). The look on his face was somewhere between disgust and disbelief, even though I was wearing a deep v shirt and my breasts were very visible.

I find the politics of being a trans woman and dating ‘straight’ men very complex. There is an inherent assumption that you’re still a man, acting out some form of identity politics and role-playing being a girl. Part of this is ignorance about hormones, the dramatic way which estrogen and the absence of testosterone rewrites your brain and desire. I’m not pretending to be a girl and my body/sexuality is not male. Trust me, I know what it was like to be a guy on T and I am as far away from that as I ever thought I would go. I’m also not role playing to be a girl. I wear makeup because I like it, I wear pink because I like it, I speak in a soft and high voice because that’s my voice. Nothing is fake here.

More complicated is the relationship between desire and body. Some guys may not be able to get over the fact that I don’t have a vagina. I think that’s inherently misogynist, as if the only part of a woman which matters is her genitals, but I also get that it’s a real biological sexual desire for guys. Vaginas are great, I get it. Some guys are weird about by anal sex and a lot of straight guys are super freaked about by what they perceive as a penis. So there is a portion of desirability where I am different from cis girls in a way which I recognize limits partners, which may not be inherently trans-phobic. I don’t think every guy has to desire me in order to prove they aren’t trans-phobic.

I do think that men should always treat me with respect, as they should treat any girl, cis or trans, in order to not be trans-phobic. As I mentioned before, I spent the better part of a year hanging out with a guy who I was romantically interested in. His position throughout our relationship was that he wasn’t sexually or romantically interested in me which became a very painful tension. We hung out all summer, outings which anyone who heard me describe immediately called dates. He wrote me a sexually explicit letter which he later claimed wasn’t sexual (‘I need your body’, actual line). We held hands, he cradled me to his chest for hours one night, we talked about sex constantly, and I always felt he was role playing being with a trans girl with me, going as far as he felt comfortable going.

I remember one night when we hung out. We went to dinner and afterwards he walked me home (a nice thing he did because he realized how much street harassment I get as a trans woman). As we were walking down Yonge street (I wasn’t passing at this point), he wrapped his arm around my shoulder and pulled me into his chest, the way I only ever see cis couples do in public. I went with it, but realized people were staring. I said to him, ‘are you sure you’re comfortable being seen in public with a trans girl?’. He said ‘oh I didn’t think of that’ and let go of me, one of those moments where I felt like I came close to being treated like any other girl and then was abandoned when my difference was seen.

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There were so many moments like that, moments when he acted like my boyfriend in public but got upset when other people noticed and commented on it. He talked about not letting the girls he was chasing/dating in his life know about me, as if I was a dirty secret. Throughout it all, he acted as if we’re just friends and I was crazy for feeling any romantic attraction. He called our physical contact ‘platonic touching’, as if laying in each other’s arms for hours was something friends do. Maybe in his world, it is, I guess, but it never felt like a friendship. It felt like a form of love, one which I desperately wanted but was never allowed to feel with him.

It’s hard not to see that line between friends and lovers as a reflection of how he saw my womanhood, a reflection of my transness. I wrote about it in my poetry, how he chased cis women while still being connected to me. He read it and got angry with me, mostly because I called out the inherent trans phobia of his comments to me and his denial of my desirability. We hung out for the last time. He denied that my transness mattered, that I didn’t know his partners and couldn’t say he was trans phobic. He never addressed the comments he made about my femininity, when he said my body wasn’t a women’s body. I listened to him speak, heard the way my pronouns caught in his voice. When people say ‘she’ and ‘her’ but don’t believe it, you can hear it in their voice. It’s a forced word, a high pitched tone which reflects the amount of mental effort it takes for them to correctly gender you.

It’s one of those tells I’ve learned, a way to know when people are calling you ‘she’ in order to not be a bigot but don’t see you as a woman. There it was again, sitting across from me, in a boy who knows me more than anyone else in my life. If he doesn’t believe I’m a woman, will anyone? We parted on uncertain terms, not sure if we would go on hanging out or not. After a few days, he sent me a series of texts saying he didn’t love me and would never want a sexual relationship. He unfriended me on Instagram and Facebook. I realized later he actually went back through my Instagram and unliked all of the posts he’d liked since we started hanging out, a way of erasing his connection to me.

That what hurts me. The part of our relationship dynamic which I feel is directly related to me as a trans woman, his shame and need to deny any attraction or affection. Why did he not want anyone to look at my Instagram and see his likes? Why did he not want to even admit that we were connected ever? Why tell me that he doesn’t love me? I don’t know the answer exactly, but I feel it’s because I’m trans. I trust that instinct. Not wanting to fuck or date me is fine (stupid, but fine), but needing to erase me from your life? Needing to deny your transphobia before removing every record of our connection? That feels like violence, a violence related to my erasure as woman. I don’t think he would treat a cis girl like that.

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I ran into him on the street yesterday. He was with a cis girl. He made eye contact with me and then walked past me without saying anything or acknowledging me. I accepted it and kept walking on as well, but in my heart, it was one of the most painful moments in my transition. I’m so stigmatized that I can’t be recognized in public. I’m so shameful that I have to be denied. Was it because of the cis girl? He didn’t want her to see his connection to me? Or because I’m crazy, because I wanted his love and challenged his biases? I’m punished as a trans girl for being trans, for daring to want love and not just sex, for asking to be seen as the woman I am.

Why am I talking about this moment in a long post about romantic love and being trans? Not because I want to call him out or get revenge for his cruelty, but because I think it’s one of the most compelling part of my transition. As a trans woman, you inherit and have to participate in the rituals of heterosexual love. You learn a new language of desire and gender and oppression. You also inherit the shame and erasure of being a trans woman, a persistent prejudice which defines the borders of what kind of love you can get. I have to balance both oppressions, as a woman with a male partner and as a transsexual in a world which only values cis bodies.

My perspective on gender has changed so much since I started transitioning. My relationship to men has never been more complicated. Yes, I want their love. No, that doesn’t make me desperate or a whore or a threat or weak. It makes me human. All of us, even men, want to be loved for who we are. I still have those romantic dreams in my head. I can’t kill them off even when they hurt me. I have always wanted to be that cis girl I saw with him yesterday, walking in sunlight without shame. One of the last things I texted him has stuck with me since I sent it. It was the line ‘I wish I could be pretty enough to matter’, a melodramatic line which manages to strike directly to the heart of the issues.

Being a woman in the script of heterosexual love is about being pretty. Yes, it’s about being low maintenance and  up for kinky sex and not too smart or demanding, but it’s mostly about being pretty. Oh, and having a vagina. Being fuckable in a way which affirms your partner’s masculinity. Being a trans woman in the script of heterosexual love means being pretty enough to outweigh your limitations. Being pretty enough that no other straight guy would question why your guy is with you. Being pretty enough to pass, being pretty enough to be immediately and undeniably recognized as female. Your worth as a woman and your potential to be loved is determined by your face.

I’ll never be pretty enough to matter in a way which negates my transness. It’s hard to predict what I will look like as I’m on hormones longer, as my face has changed dramatically in the last 4 months, but I’ll probably always be visible as a trans woman. I may never fit into the script of heterosexual love, no matter how much I want to or change myself to accommodate it. I remember him talking to me about a cis girl he was dating towards the end of our relationship. He described her as being smart, but talking like a stupid valley girl and how charming he thought that was. I didn’t comment, but in my head, I thought ‘ah, she’s better at playing the script than I am’. He was valued her ability to conform to the script of being a girl, hiding her intelligence behind her body.

This tension speaks to the core of being a trans woman. You have to respond to the patriarchal oppression of being a woman without having time to learn the appropriate responses. Cis girls will always be better at navigating the script than me, because they’ve had their whole lives to practice it. You are denied as a woman while being expected to flawlessly be a woman, an impossible standard you can’t meet because you don’t know the rules you have to follow. When you fail the standards of femininity for men, it validates them seeing you as a fake woman. You can’t win, no matter how lovely of a human being you are.

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Dismantling patriarchy and trans phobia in your dating life is a hard place. I find it hard to imagine that I could find a guy who was willing to do that work with me, that I could ever be pretty enough to be worth the social stigma of being with a trans girl. I may be one of those trans women I feared so much when I started transitioning, the desperately single kind.  In some way, that fear of being single is a core fear for women, cis and trans. I talk about it with my cis girlfriends and many of them are in the same boat, navigating impossible standards of body and attractiveness while hiding their need for romantic love. I’m not sure what the answers is. I keep trying to find love, alternating between hating myself for wanting it and praying that it finds me.

This is what being a woman is to me in some sense. Fighting your natural desire and power in order to not threaten men. Pushing yourself to be smaller and smaller so they can expand infinitely around you. Believing you are crazy for expecting men to be accountable for their desires. Teaching yourself to want less and less so men don’t feel any pressure to perform. Shaming yourself for speaking back to men, hating yourself for being outspoken in the face of their violence. Asking your heart to survive on nothing, training your body to perform for male pleasure, becoming a open and empty vessel for them.

I won’t ever be that girl. I can’t be. My heart is wild. I want and want and want. I rush into the world. I am crazy. I need love. I push back, I stand up, I speak out. I write it down, I ask for accountability. Why do I do it even as I hate myself for it? I guess we have to decide what kind of woman we will be, loved or free. It doesn’t feel like we get to be both. If I have to pick, I can live without love (not well, but I can do it) but I don’t think I could live without being free. Wild, dangerous girl. Desperately single. Transsexual. Poet. The most terrifying girl you could be. Unlovable, undesirable, but yes, free.

If I could have said anything in the moment he walked past me, it would have been this: the only one who isn’t real is you. Your masculinity is the performance, the fraud in the room. Your desire and love is bound by a rule-book you refuse to name. I may be alone, ignored and denied as a woman, but I’m real. It doesn’t comfort me like I wish it could, but to see yourself as you are is is to a requirement for love.

In those romantic comedies I’ve love, there is always a moment when the two lovers look into each others eyes, the moment of recognition. The ‘Yes, this is you. Yes, this is me.’ script which he refused to play with me in front of a cis girl. He wasn’t scared of seeing me. He was scared of seeing himself, a boy with a trans woman in public. I can’t change that. I may never be pretty enough to cross that line to love. I’ll keep trying. I can’t believe that all men want to play their part in the script, just as I don’t want to play my role. Some of us, somewhere, must want to step out of the screen and into the world, connected through more than our genitals.

Decolonial love? Breaking the binary? I don’t know what to call it. Or just love, real love, honest love, human love. What we need, what we want. To be seen and to see back. To touch and touched. To trust and be trusted. To walk in light and light the walk. To be just a girl in front of  just a boy, asking him to love her (Notting Hill reference). To be allowed to be human, to be forgiven for desiring, to be embraced for seeking love. To be more than our genitals, to be free and in love. To who I’ve always been. To matter, whether I’m pretty or not.

 

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Transition 18: Surrender

I’ve reached a strange point in my transition. For the last 3 days, I’ve started to be consistently read as female in public. It just happened on Tuesday when I got into a taxi in Ottawa and then kept happening. Cashiers, security guards, panhandlers, restaurants, movie theaters, and strangers on the street who bumped into me. There is a surreal quality to how it feels to be gendered correctly. After so long of not being gendered properly, it’s confusing to be read as the gender I am. I’m not sure what exactly has changed recently, although I suspect it is related to my hair length and my progress with laser hair removal on my face.

How does it feel? Positive, but terrifying and confusing. It happens with people I’m talking to, so my voice doesn’t seem to be gendering me incorrectly. It also happens with people who I don’t think are reading me as transgender as well, people who I don’t think have much awareness of what a trans woman is. It feels like a gift, one I never thought I would see. On the other hand, it terrifies me because I’m scared of it stopping or of doing the wrong thing and losing it. Without knowing why, it’s hard to keep doing whatever it is which is causing me to be gendered correctly.

It also reveals the limitations of my transition. I’m 3 months into Estrogen, about 4 1/2 months on T-blockers. Based on what I see from other trans woman, the changes in our faces seem to intensify at 6 months to 1 year. Everyone responds differently and it’s clear from my progress in development that I’m a rare high responder to estrogen. My breast development and facial changes have occurred at a very rapid rate. I realized this week that I completely fill a bra I bought 2 months ago. When I bought it, it was loose but now it’s not. When I see my body in the mirror, it is unmistakably female. My face may still be caught between genders, but my body is rapidly tilting to one side.

I realized that people in my life who know me don’t see my changes like strangers do. I think I’m coded as male in their brains and even through most of them have migrated to the right pronouns and name, my gender is erased by past associations. Other trans women have warned me about this, but I didn’t quite appreciate it until now. What does it mean when strangers gender me correctly but my friends and coworkers still get it wrong? I underestimated the power of first impressions, how the references we build around people in our lives sustain themselves despite any changes.

This is a profound part of my transition which I did not appreciate when I began. I often overestimate my capacity to overcome obstacles. I jump into things without considering the consequences or the odds of success. I have an inherent faith in my ability to survive and achieve my goals. It is the abuse survivor in me, a stubborn refusal to accept my limitations and a passionate hope in the velocity of my heart. It has kept me alive throughout my life, but it also hurts me. This transition has been a very hard lesson in recognizing when I’m in a fight I can’t win.

I used to believe that I could become a girl despite my past life. I thought I could keep the threads of my old life connected to the new life I’ve built, but my perspective is changing. Very few people have the capacity to have known me as I was and still see who I am now. I thought I could convince them that the current version of me is the version of me which has always been present. I’m not sure it works like that. Partly because I’m not the same person I always was and I can’t pretend that the old version of me is the same as the current. Much of the change is hormonal, a shift in my preferences and personality as I feel more free to express myself as I want. It’s also the weight of  this transition, the hard lessons I’ve learned and the pain of it pushing me in new directions.

As a feminist, I always accepted the idea that gender was a social construction which could be reconstructed and broken due through critical thought. I believed that there was fluidity in how we could express gender and that other people could and do see through our gender presentation to who we are inside. I don’t feel that’s true anymore, a radical breakdown in how I view the world. I think we got it wrong. Gender is certainly socially constructed but my experience is that gender is also chemically and biologically constructed. Having been both genders chemically, I can say there is a marked difference between testosterone and estrogen.

I don’t believe that hormones are destiny or that differences in biological gender determine our capacity as individuals. I think there is a wide overlap and grey area in male and female bodies as well as biology. Most individuals have a blend of estrogen and testosterone, making it not a pure gender distinction. But yes, I think there is a biological different between us based on my transition. I also think gender is much more powerful concept than people admit. Perhaps there is theoretical room of variance in gender and for deconstructing gender, but in real life, gender is an absolute ruler.

We talk about there not being two binary positions of gender, male and female. In Indigenous cultures, we’ve always had 3 or more genders. I agree in principle, but in everyday life, there is absolutely only two options for a majority of the world. Falling between those two binaries is not a pleasant place to be. I used to think people in my life would see me as female because that who I am, regardless of my body. I believe because a majority of people in my life came from a similar background in feminism and gender theory that they could get it.

Maybe they do on an intellectual level. In terms of how they treat and see me, a vast majority of them still treat me as boy. Even if they use the right pronouns, they often say things which tell me how they really see me. I’m not a girl to them in how they respond or treat me, regardless of what they say. This is the hard wall of gender I can’t break down. I used to think that my intelligence and capacity for artistic achievement would let me scale it, but no, I was wrong. The most important part of gender is looking like the gender you are. You will be treated as the gender you most closely resemble, no matter what your politics say.

I also understand why many trans woman don’t tell anyone they’re trans. Or start entirely new lives in different cities. Because your past prevents your present. People don’t update their view of you. They will see the boy they first met, instead of the girl who is in front of them now. The deadname follows me. The old face stalks me. I can’t escape it unless the person has only known me as I am now. I’ll never be a girl to most of the people I know. What does that mean for me?

Surrender. I fought my way through this transition. I thought if I documented and explained and argued, I could bring people in my life along with me. I thought I could be different from the stories of other trans women who told me about losing everyone and rebuilding. I took selfies, showed my body as it changed, thinking people would see the change in me and recognize me for what I am becoming. I took this transition like I’ve taken every difficult thing in my life, as a storm of light and sound. And I was wrong.

I can’t win against gender. It is greater than me and more powerful than anyone cares to admit. As a woman, my face and body define my entire life in way they never did as a man. My goals now are to confirm as much as I can, to try to erase as much of my masculine traits as I can. To blend in, to fit the box. Because as much as people claim to celebrate gender non conformance and being an individual, it’s a distant appreciation. It doesn’t translate into meaningful engagement with you as a person and it doesn’t cause them to see you for who you are.

I’ve had so many conversations with people in my life about this transition. I assume they get it, because they know me and seemingly care about me. Then they say something which tells me in explicit terms that they still see me as a man. A friend recently was  taking to me about dating, someone I thought appreciated who I was fully, and said to me, ‘you’re looking to date a gay man, right?’. The implication is a) I’m still a man despite my gender b) a complete erasure of my body, the fact that I have breasts and am feminine in presentation and appearance and c) the idea that my genitals rule my partners. I didn’t know what to say. I was shocked.

I was shocked because while I recognize that my face is still between male and female, my body certainly isn’t. I stammered back ‘well no, I’m a girl and I have breasts?’. I gestured to my chest, as I often do in conversations with people who misgender me.  Like hello, they’re small but not that small. I have full on cleavage now. And my friend looked at me and scrunched up their face before saying, ‘well like who then? straight guys?’ as if it was impossible and the worst idea. Another message telling me I’m too masculine to matter. Another way of telling my body is wrong. Another  message from someone who knows me and should understand that I’m not a real girl. Not real enough to matter.

They went on to recommend I try to date other trans women. Which makes no sense, because I’m not a lesbian. Like I’ve tried that and no thanks, not right for me. The idea I guess is that other trans women are also not real women and therefore, we’d both still be guys and that would work out. Stupid and frustrating conversation but also honest. This is a smart educated person who is well versed in feminism. I think it reflects how most people see me and other trans women. What we look like, what’s between our legs, determines our humanity.

I don’t think we can change that. I don’t think I can change it. So if you can’t change the world, you change yourself. The lesson for me is that I need to work harder at passing if I ever want to seen as real. I think I will get bottom surgery when I’m eligible, even though it terrifies me and is painful and the outcomes are unclear. I don’t want to be erased forever by my genitals. I also think I will try to get face surgery. I resisted this for so long, thinking it was conforming to gender norms. If the only way I can ever be seen as real is how close my face is to gender norms, then I need to do it. I don’t want to fight against expectations anymore.

Time to surrender, wait for hormones to change me. Plan for surgeries. Delete the old photos of me as a boy. Erase him as much as possible. And when I’m closer to female norms, build new connections. Shape a new life when I can. I don’t think I will blog about this transition anymore. Or take more selfies. I thought it was documenting my change, but I think it just made it easier for people to keep me linked to my past. Making myself visible has only made me more invisible.

So often, theory fails to match life. I still believe in breaking the gender binary, but I don’t want to be a sacrifice on that particular altar. If I want to be happy as I am, the only way to is stop fighting and confirm. I can’t change the world. I can change myself to meet it’s expectations. And that’s what this transition has taught me. The nice positive affirmations about being yourself are things people share on social media, but in real life, in human dynamics, we really expect and want people to line up with our expectations. Maybe we shouldn’t, but we do.

I think a transition gives you a very unique perspective on gender. I think it’s the most powerful force in our world, beyond racism and sexuality and prejudice. Gender is a universal language which controls your destiny. This is why trans people experience such dramatic oppression. So many nice liberal friends in my life have stepped away from me for being trans, because fundamentally, they believe  gender is your genitals. Gay friends, friends who are bisexual, friends who are racialized, friends who vote NDP, friends who identify as feminists, friends who say they’re against gender constructions-they’ve all denied me as a woman. Because no matter our theory or backgrounds, there is a very powerful narrative in our lives about gender and it is constantly reinforced.

That realization depresses me to no end, but it’s helpful to recognize the limitations of change. A friend asked me during the summer if I really wanted to be a woman. The answer is yes. I will do what I have to be seen for who I am. Even if it means surgery. Even if it means erasing my past. Why? Because it’s who I am. And conforming is the only way to be seen for who I am. It’s not the answer I want, but it’s reality. I’ve spent much of my life fighting against that reality but now, I think it’s time to surrender.

 

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Transition 17: The Relationship between Abuse and Being Trans

*trigger warning for abuse, suicide*

It’s weird I’m still writing in this blog. I feel a shift in my life energy away from social media, but I think I still value the process of writing and reflecting on my transition. Apart of whatever social value there is in documenting change, I like that a record of my process exists, if even for myself. Or if something happens to me, there’s a roadmap of my life in my voice which extends beyond me. It’s one of the comforts I take from my writing. My books will survive me to whatever degree they continue to be relevant.

I think about death often. Likely because it’s one of the major artistic themes of my work, but also because I feel a special affinity for the dead. I always have, since I was a kid. I like what is unseen and lingers, the underside of our lives. History, the past, and every small dream which no longer sings. It’s morbid, but it’s also fascinating. I remember one of my lines, ‘the promise is double in us, we are the heirs of death and the chosen ones who will die’. There is also grief, an emotional state which has defined me.

I live with grief. It’s part of my inheritance. I come from a family where abuse defined family bonds for generations. I grew up in a house filled with violence, fear, and control. My parents were abusive, mostly because they were abused and it was how they understood love. My father was physically violent, as well as emotionally abusive. He focused much of his anger on me because I was feminine. He used to try to ‘man’ me up through physical punishments, shame, and forcing me to stereotypical male things. It didn’t work, but it did teach me to hate myself.

Apart from the constant physical violence, he created a family dynamic where we (my sisters and mother) competed for his approval. We were enemies with each other, focusing the attention of the family around him and his anger. It’s a common tactic of abusive men, disrupting the family environment and creating an atmosphere of fear. He would punish us in front of each other, shame one member of the family while the rest of us watched, and would suddenly fly into anger without explanation. There was no way to predict his violence. He would wake up me at night sometimes to beat me.

My sisters and mother supported him in varying degrees in his violence. They never interfered with his attacks on me, likely because they lacked the capacity to and often because they wanted his approval more. It fragmented any bond I could feel between myself and them. All of us, broken apart from birth. His father, judging by the stories, was much worse. My grandfather beat my grandmother in front of his children, which I don’t think my father ever did in private or public. So in some sense, he improved over his father.

I don’t understand what happened to me as a child. I never have and I don’t think I ever will. Some of the violence happened in front of other people. I don’t know why they didn’t interfere. If I ever saw a man slap his 8 year old child in the face, I would respond. I can’t imagine walking away from that, but then, I’m not my father. I have no contact with my family as an adult, a decision which took years but every social worker/therapist I ever saw recommended to me. Part of my decision was that I was with my ex partner. I felt like I had finally escaped my childhood.

My parents abandoned me several times in my life, but most significantly when I has just started high school. I experienced a tremendous amount of violence in high school due to bullying. I was constantly hunted through the halls of my school by packs of boys because of my femininity. I remember counting how many times I was called a ‘faggot’ one day at school. I reached 56 and stopped counting. They would chase me home after school. I would hide until 30 minutes had passed after last bell so I could try to get home safely or I would run all the way home after last class. It was a difficult adolescence.

I felt caught between two terrible forces, my family and the bullies at school. I had to hide the bullying from my family because they hated my femininity and homosexuality as much as the boys at school did. At home, I was constantly under attack and interrogated by my parents. At school, I was hated and spit on every day. It was relentless. It was the time in my life when I developed my first eating disorder, a pattern which was the only thing which brought me comfort then. It was also when I had my first suicide attempt. And my second. And then my third. Eventually, the pressure became too great and the administrators at my school realized I was trying to die.

I don’t think I ever wanted to die truly. I just think I couldn’t imagine living like that anymore and wanted the pain to stop. I think that’s how suicide functions for some individuals, a way to return control to a life destroyed by other people. A way to save yourself, I guess, if it seems extreme and permanent. While I recognize the impact of suicide, I don’t judge people who attempt or successfully commit it. I understand the feeling. When you have very limited options and no escape from violence, it becomes a more compelling option than most people realize. So much of your being becomes about escaping the pain, it gets written into you as a central mission.

I was hospitalized in a children’s psych ward for about 2 weeks. It was the first time I was ever away from my parent’s abuse. They visited, but after observing my mental state after they visited, the staff reduced their access to me and tranquilized me. I don’t think I’ve ever written about that before. It was a scary and lonely moment in my life. You become labeled as ‘crazy’ in an institution and treated like invalid, but the circumstances of my life were not my fault. I’m not sure how I could have managed it better. An adult would have struggled, much less a child.

It was also the only time I was ever safe from my family until I left home to attend university. I could have went into a group home under the care of the state, but I figured my chances of a better life were higher if I stayed within the family house. We moved cities, I went to a new high school which was much better, and I got really good grades and scholarships so I could attend university. I survived by avoiding contact with my family as much as possible, sleeping when I came home from school and only being active when they were asleep. I walled off myself from them in my basement room. I got my dog, Mr Snuggles, which was the first time I ever experienced complete love.

And I went to university and left them forever. But you don’t escape abuse. It lives in your cells. It replicates in your mind. The message of your worthlessness continues, even after the abuse stops. I grow up in an unstable environment without love. It made me vulnerable to many other evils, including other abusive people and bad coping skills. The statistics around children who were abused are terrifying. We have shorter life expectancy, reduced success in relationships and careers, much higher rates of illness, and an overall diminished capacity for life. I feel that and see the reflections in my life as well.

The core pain of my experience of abuse was abandonment and grief. Being left or failed by those who were supposed to love/protect me and the grief of not having what others had. I watched other kids grow up loved and I wondered what it would be like. I used to imagine being rescued from my family growing up but I never was. Later on, I imagined being loved in a way which let me feel safe which hasn’t happened either. I think it’s why I became a writer and a poet, as a way to escape them and a way to win the approval of the outside world. My way of showing I have worth, even though I come from nothing. Well, worse than nothing.

As I go through my transition, I’m starting to realize how deeply triggering it is for me. It’s another replication of my childhood. Friends abandoning me because I’m trans, lovers shaming me because I’m trans, and strangers shouting ‘faggot’ at me. In some sense, my childhood of abuse prepared me for this transition. I’m better equipped to handle the violence, because at my heart, I’m a survivor. But it also triggers old ways of coping, suicidal thoughts and a persistent loneliness. I feel trapped again, caught between forces which are trying to kill me.

Suicide is a part of the trans community as it is a common way we die. I know of 3 trans women who have killed themselves since I started my transition. I know cis people think this is because we’re crazy and messed up inside, but I fundamentally think it is because of oppression. The way society treats you is profoundly painful, especially if there is family rejection as well. In some way or another, almost all of the trans women I know work through suicidal thoughts. I know I do. Often when I’m at the worst point in my estrogen cycle, when my moods are most affected by the hormones, I will be suicidal for hours.

I’m pretty comfortable with it to be honest. I’m used to feeling that way, since I was a kid. I know how to manage it. Distract myself, break my mental cycle, practice self care, reach out to social networks, and comfort myself. I remind myself it’s a feeling, a temporary state of pain and I reach around the pain. I accept the pain, I embrace loss, and I wait for it to pass. And it does. It comes back again and again as I transition, but I work through it. I’ve always assumed at some point in my life, I’ll lose that struggle, but so far, I stay alive.

I suppose the insight for this entry is the relationship between our past and our transitions. If your fundamental experience of being human is one of loss and pain, it is going to be a challenging transition. I find it interesting how this transition mirrors my childhood. I seem to be the kind of girl who does hard shit. I don’t want to be, but we don’t choose our paths. Not really. I didn’t ask to be born into an abusive house. I didn’t ask to be trans. I think both are genetic.

But I go on, I work through, I rely on my intelligence and capacity to endure as I always have. A survivor survives. There is regret in that statement, but also a recognition of capacity. Many of my peers didn’t make it from the hospital. I did. I don’t think that because I was better, but lucky. I hope my luck keeps turning over, but I don’t know. So much of me is already consumed by this transition. What’s left is a small love, a soft hope, and a prayer for transformation. The rest is often pain.

May we stay alive. May I stay alive. May we go on. May it be a different future than the past.

 

 

 

 

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10 Ways Transitioning Changed Me

I’ve been reflecting on how my transition changed me. I’m two months from reaching my 1 year mark, but the weight of my movement in the last 10 months is reaching me. My gender/name change forms were processed, so I legally am Gwen and a female. There is a legal record of my assigned at birth sex and my old name, but I can have new ids issued. Physically, I’m closer to being read as female and my body is a woman’s body. My breasts have developed to a point where I can’t hide them under clothing. I have my 3rd facial laser appointment this week. I am close to seeing myself in the real world as I have always seen myself in my mind.

I want to write a list of how my transition changed me. There is obvious physical changes, but the more complex changes in my life are less visible. The non-physical changes are more important to how I experience my life. I wanted to speak (again) on why I write and publicly share my this transition. I was recently attacked on Twitter by another trans woman for ‘self pitying’ writing about being trans. The implicit message was that writing about the complexities of being trans is self serving and emotionally manipulative. Of course, I recognize there are more ‘important things’ in the world than our individual experiences, but I disagree about the value of sharing personal stories.

I believe we learn through the stories of others. It’s a central part of Indigenous cultures, using storytelling as a place for inquiry and growth. We see ourselves by looking to others. The personal is the political and my personal is intensely political. An Indigenous woman has to reflect on her lived experiences to engage the world, same as any trans woman. Our bodies and voices have been traditionally silenced by history. We are still being silenced as Indigenous and trans women, murdered and harmed on a daily basis by historic and state forces.

It is important to speak to our lives. There are several ways to accomplish this and I recognize my way is one of many diverse methods of resistance. I am a writer at my core, so I write and reflect. I’m not sure what else I would do. I’m not very good at other forms of resistance. This is my record keeping, my witnessing of my life. I’m not going to justify it. We need critical reflection, we need diverse voices, and we need truth. So my list:

1: The Way I Remember My Life  

Coming out of the ‘trans’ closet opened up new ways to remember my life. Experiences and relationships which have confused me for decades now make sense. Why I have I primarily formed romantic relationships with straight identified men? Because I’m a girl. Why did most of my ex partners call me their ‘girlfriend’ or use female pet names for me? Because they recognized I was a girl before I did. I recently remembered another origin for Gwen, one I hadn’t connected until now.

My ex partner of 5 years was primarily straight identified. I was his first ‘male’ partner, sexually and romantically. He was out about our relationships in varying degrees. It took him several months to come out to his friends and about 6 or 7 months to come out to his family. I respect him for having the courage to be out about our relationship. Being a trans girl has made me aware of how  rare it is for a man to be brave enough to admit unconventional relationships to the wider world. He wasn’t out at his work, so he talked about me through a pseudonym. He shifted ‘Giles’ to ‘Gwen’ when talking to his co-workers and used female pronouns. So did he name me?

It’s funny to reflect on how many of my experiences are similar in my life, as other people have often seen my transness before I did. Why did I never connect romantically with gay men? Likely because they were looking for a guy who I couldn’t be. Why did I spend so much time dressing in plaid and jeans, refusing to buy new clothes or invest in my appearance? Because I hated what I saw in the mirror. Shopping for men’s clothing made me more aware of the discomfort I felt in my body. There are hundreds of stories like this, a thousand ways my transness was always part of me.

I suppose you could say this post-facto justification, but I see my life as a series of failed explorations of trying to be a man. The intimate bonds I did form were through my intrinsic femininity. I feel a strange disconnect to my life before I started hormones. Other trans girls have written about this, so I don’t feel completely crazy talking about it. My memories of life before are more or less intact, but the emotional resonance from them is different. They feel like an inherited set of memories, as if someone imprinted their life over mine. I can remember facts easily, but the emotional echoes of the memories have shifted. The only memories which still carry emotional resonance are my memories of ex lovers and my dog. I wonder if this is because my relationships to my lovers and my dog were closer to my true heart, so I can still connect them to who I am now.

2: The Way I Relate to My Body       

This one sounds obvious, but the experience of it is very complex. I never realized how uncomfortable I was with my ‘male’ body until I started hormones. When I started removing my body + facial hair, I was shocked to realize how much it had depressed me throughout my life. I felt free. My face, as HRT changes it, is slowly moving closer to how I’ve imagined it. The ability to be present in my body is beautiful. I never experienced my body as site a pleasure and joy until I transitioned. Every day, I find the changes exhilarating. It feels like coming home to myself.

3: The Way I Relate to the World

I realized this week how much negativity I experience on a day to day basis. From social media and people in my life as well as men online, I’m bombarded constantly with messages of hate, violence, and shame. I’ve always been able to soak up harassment, borne from living in an abusive house as a kid and the bullying I went through in high school. It has an enormous cost to my well being. I don’t always appreciate how much it affects me. Imagine what it means to constantly walk through a hostile world, always worrying about violence everywhere you go. It starts to change you in very negative ways. I am more guarded, more angry, and almost always tense. The moments I relax or feel safe are very rare. Even when I’m in my home, negative messages still reach me. There isn’t an easy answer. Withdraw from the world and be isolated or live with the violence?

4: How I Relate to Men

I’ve always had a messed up dynamic with men. My father was extremely abusive, physically, verbally, and emotionally. I was tortured by boys in high school, constantly stalking me through the halls, attacking me when I walked home, and calling me ‘faggot’ every chance they could. In relationships with men, I’ve always felt like the second best option. As I said, my partners have been straight identified men and that’s led to most of them to leave me for cis women at some point in our relationship. Or cheating on me with cis women. Or telling me how much better cis women were than me, sexually and as romantic partners. Part of what hurts me about my breakup with my ex is how easily he replaced me. He started dating a cis girl almost immediately when we broke up (who seems lovely). I’m happy for him, but I wonder if we would still be together if I had transitioned sooner. Likely not, but it hurts.

Transitioning adds a new layer to my dynamic with men. Men seem scared of me now. Or uncomfortable, a discomfort which I can sense the moment I speak to them. I avoid speaking to men, as I’m worried if my contact being misunderstood. I think they also don’t interact with me because they don’t want to be misunderstood. It is part of the girl/boy dynamic but part of it feels because I’m trans. On the other side, I’m bombarded with sexually explicit messages from men in my life and strangers. They are usually creepy, often violent, and always unsolicited. This is normal for being a woman but there is a dimension of it which feels unique to being trans. I get the sense they a) think I’m a sex crazed transvestite and b) assume a degree of sexual deviance because I’m trans. I’m really what would happen if Taylor Swift and Janis Joplin had a kid, guys.

I’ve started to hate men in a quiet way. It deeply concerns me. I’m angry with men as a collective which can translate to being angry with men on an individual level, which isn’t what I want. It’s complicated to be subjected to the worst of male attention and not internalize it as anger at all men. I think I feel angry with men in my life as well. On some level, I’m think don’t ‘you see what your fellow bros are saying/doing?’ and feel they should take some kind of responsibility for addressing it. It’s unfair of me, as they aren’t causing it or harrassing me, but I would say something if they were being harmed by a trans woman (impossible to imagine).

I don’t know how to balance that dynamic. I wonder if it is a common girl/boy dynamic. I think it must be. There are men who support me or are positive influences. My best friend from high school is unconditionally supportive and consistently gets it. He seems to learn and adapt as I transition, often letting me know when something I’ve said or written has changed how he sees me. He also hasn’t been afraid to like or comment on many of the things I post, something I think takes courage as hetrosexual man in a public space. I’ve had sexual/romantic male partners who’ve been positive. I’ve been the most open with them, physically and emotionally, and they’ve affirmed me as a woman which I’ve written about before. And many guys in the middle, affirming me in some moments but also erasing me in others. It’s never a perfect nor easy relationship, but I can’t get away from men. They are my sexual and romantic counterparts, so we’re stuck with each other.

5: How I Manage Difficult Things

Transitioning has revealed my good and bad coping skills. I’ve never used them so much before now. Nothing I’ve done has been so devastating, so consistently challenging. On the positive side, I have a remarkable capacity to survive pain and balance fear. I’ve done things in the last 10 months which I never thought I could, often with little or no support. I push myself into the world over and over again. My imagination is rich and became a way to sustain myself. I think spend more time in my head than ever before, using my imagination to fill gaps in my life.

On the negative side, I’m just as reactionary as always. Hormones made me more reactive, a constant emotional roller coaster I am learning to manage. No one prepares you for that aspect of hormones. Everything is heightened. I react in nanoseconds. My old pattern of quietly compressing my emotions and pushing through has been a challenge. As emotional and expressive as I must seem, I often repress my exhaustion or pain so I can survive hard moments. With this transition, there hasn’t been any moments of ease, so I’m constantly locking down my emotions. I worry of the long term consequences.

6: How I Connect to Other Trans Women    

I have been lucky to have a small group of intelligent and community focused trans women in my life. They nurture me, supporting my career and my transition. I try to return that love to them. Other trans women have experience navigating transitions and are the only people on the planet who get what I’m going through. We are very different from each other, but we have many similar experiences. Most of what I know about hormones comes from them, not my doctor. Medical institutions don’t understand what happens in HRT precisely. It’s other trans women who help me navigate my world and are my fiercest allies.

We’re also a very oppressed community and this reflects as a form of shared trauma. We bring our pain into all of our relationships. It is hard to support other trans women because we have limited resources due to our collective oppression. One of my trans girl friends made the comment to me, ‘it’s weird how trans friendship looks like a suicide watch’. It’s morbid but true. I text my circle of trans girls all the time, asking in soft ways ‘are you ok? are you safe? is your life liveable?’. They do the same with me. All of us, myself included, talk in veiled ways to each other about our fear of suicide. We consider it, we resist it, and we know it is one of the ways trans women die.

7: How I Connect to Cis Folk

I have many cis people in my life. They are the majority of society and I didn’t know any trans folk before I transitioned. I love them and have long standing friendships with many of them. Some of them have learned and grown with me, some of them don’t understand what I’m doing but try to appreciate it, and some of them have left my life. All of them of have some degree of confusion or mis-education to overcome in their relationship to me. I don’t feel safe with them anymore.

Even the good ones hurt me. They forget pronouns or names, they say dumb shit, and they often make mistakes which are painful. I understand but it’s hard to trust someone who keeps hurting you, even unintentionally. It adds to the guarded sense I carry into every moment. I’m always tense with them, even if I know and like them. Trans feels like a barrier, an invisible wall between me and the rest of the world. I hope it lessens over time. It’s not a pleasant feeling to always be on guard with the people you love.

8: How I Relate to My Art

I’ve always connected to the world through my poetry. Writing and reading poetry are the core of me. I leaned on poetry so much in the last 10 months. It’s been one of the things which has saved me. My prose writing through this blog has been a window into my life but also a space where I feel whole. My connection to my writing has grown. I write more honestly now than before. I write constantly. I suspect I will step back from writing when my life changes more, but for now, it’s life.  

9: How I Relate to Life

I’ve come to a new philosophy of life through this transition. Radical honesty has become the emotional centre of my life. Truth telling is how I connect to others. The old desires to conform or fit into the expectations of the world have left me. I am forced as a trans woman to be public about such private parts of myself with strangers that I’ve developed a capacity to overcome my fears and share. I’ve come to value sharing. I think we deny our humanity too often. The Western hang ups around truth seem strange to me. Why do we spend so much constructing and creating a narrative of self which avoids the truth of our experience? Who would we be past our fear? Who are the people in my life really? Who am I?

Instead of shaming people for being honest or open, we need to celebrate it. I value our vulnerability. I value our pain. I want us to speak as equals without holding back. It goes against our social instincts, but it’s needed to create change. We cannot transform society without embracing truth. Transitioning meant being open about my life in a way I had never done before. I found it liberating. I push for truth in everything I do. It terrifies people but I don’t understand why. Why are we so afraid of who we are? Why do we want to be perfect? Let’s be messy. Let’s be ourselves. We don’t have much time. The bonds between us are precious. Do something which terrifies you. Take risks. Take chances. Trust me, it won’t kill you. It may change you, but only for the better.

10: How Much Work is Needed to Create Change

I underestimated the amount of work needed to create change in how people perceive me when I was starting my transition. There is a constant need for emotional labor with people in my life. Everyone has a different starting point with some more informed and others less informed, but everyone needs some kind of ongoing dialogue to facilitate change. Some of my friends were quicker than others, but all of my friends needed time to process and relearn me. It’s only in the last month that I’ve seen a shift in how they interact with me. They’ve started using the right pronouns consistently, correcting themselves and others when someone gets it wrong, and gradually moving to a more active support of me in my transition.

I’ve realized their thinking has evolved, not always from conversations with me but often from watching me navigate challenges. It requires a willingness to learn new information, a sincere desire to connect with me, and a capacity to reflect on what they are seeing. There are many false starts or half steps forward. Once one mental barrier is crossed, new ones are uncovered. The more female I look, the easier it becomes for people to see me. It is a drain on my resources to always be explaining myself, but it’s needed.

Some relationships take more energy than others. My relationships with men seem to take the most re-education. It’s a strange bond, sharing bodies and experiences with guys who are trying to learn what being trans means. They have to work through it by growing comfortable with me, comfortable with their masculinity, and figuring out the mechanics. Some guys can leap into it without much support, but most of them require work to get there. It’s weird for me. I don’t want to do this work, but it’s a requirement. The ‘am I gay now’ conversation is the funniest one to me. Do guys have breasts, like full on girl breasts? No? Then you’re not gay, because I’m a girl. Sometimes, I have a strange urge to mess with them and just be like ‘Yes, you’re super gay now. So gay, the gayest gay of gay town’, but usually I’m sensitive.  

Above all else, change takes time. More time than I feel I have, but slowly, I think some people in my life are starting to embrace me for who I am. Others have left and won’t return. Some are in the process of coming back to me. It’s work, constantly unpacking and educating which exhausts me as much as the hate. I dream of being able to be with someone who doesn’t need me to make them uncomfortable, who doesn’t need me to process their views of gender or my body. But that’s a stupid dream. This is complicated.

I don’t have the luxury of silence. TV isn’t going to educate the world for me. Other trans women do education in their own ways, but it’s hard and painful. Most of us don’t have resources. I am a writer, so this has always been my job. I do it, even when I hate it. I don’t know if it’s worth the cost, but it’s necessary for my life. Want friends or lovers? Teach them to love you, show how to see you, help them cross the border. It’s not activism, it’s desperation. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life alone, explaining myself endlessly. I don’t want to other trans girls die or get beat up or go missing. I want all of us, myself included, to be whole, loved, and happy.

Can you blame me? I wrote something in a poem which sticks with me as an overall thought about this transition:

‘A transition is as simple

as peeling bark from a tree

without stripping what keeps it alive.’

gwen

Transition 16: Being Trans in Public

I wanted to write on this particular topic for months now. I’m glad I waited until now. I’m learning how my understanding of being trans is changing constantly. There is an assumption that because you’re trans, you inherently know what you’re doing but often, it’s a mystery and an experiment in some sense to me. I react on instinct, responding to invisible forces which the wider world doesn’t see or understand. Often, it is terrifying to be trans in public. There is a sense of responsibility to represent appropriately but also an intense fear of saying or doing the ‘wrong’ thing.

I’ve said before there is no right way to be trans and I come back to that thought daily. I often frame my expression of my body in terms of speaking truth to power, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel pressure from within and without to perform my gender to expectation. Be brave, be social justice, be powerful-even when you feel smaller than you’ve ever felt before. I’ve been forcing myself to wear my wig in public, which has felt impossible. I’m so self conscious, in part because I hate that it makes me look like a trans woman. My struggle is undoubtedly my internalized transphobia and discomfort with my body. Super problematic, but also truthful.

Sometimes the images of my body I put on Instagram are reminders to myself to confront my gender, my transness. I spent so much time editing those images, deciding which ones present me in the best light, trying to minimize the masculine features and highlight the feminine ones. I push myself to share images which make me uncomfortable, photos where I don’t like how my face looks, because I want a social media presence which is relentlessly honest to the truth of my experience/body. I’m not sure why I value honesty over other aspects of life, but I want to model truth in action.

All of my actions end up filtered through my transness. There is no way I can step back from actively constructing and defining what transness is for others in my life, even other trans girls. I hate that reality, because the whole point of my transition was to make the girl visible, not the trans girl. But that’s what I am and am allowed to be. Another version of girl, not the same version of girl as my cis friends. Maybe that’s a good thing, to swing from the corner that’s your own, but I struggle with the feeling that I can never escape my transness.

I launched my book on Friday night. My trans girl friends/writers came to support and were amazing, as they always are. The crowd was mostly trans folks, which surprised me. There was Indigenous folks as well but less than I expected. The people I wished would come didn’t. I was grateful to those who came (it was a full house, around 120 I think?) but it was mostly strangers. I felt a new pressure reading to audience of mostly trans folk. The pressure of performing transness in an empowering way, but also the pressure of speaking to a community which is deeply traumatized and oppressed. We carry our pain into every space we enter. I do as well and I had a moment of realizing how much damage I’ve soaked up in the last 10 months of the transition.

There is so much anger in me which wasn’t there before. And violence, things people have said to me about my body and being trans, ways men have used me and attacked me in the last 10 months, and the extraordinary stress of navigating the world as a trans woman. The human part of me is very defeated and almost to a place of complete hopelessness. There is a grace in accepting loss, one I’m reaching for now, but all in all, I’m not doing well as an emotional/spiritual self. At the launch, I felt caught between the need to be a public performer and the reality of just how much pain I’m in at this moment in my life.

I bombed my set. I don’t think everyone picked up on it, but if you know me as a reader/performer, you would know I lost it. I dropped in the old tactics of sarcasm and shocking one liners, the catty bitch I can be when I’m threatened. That was not what I wanted to bring to my launch, but it’s what was there. My audience was tense to begin with (again, I read as a function of transness-the way we have to always be on guard for violence, even with each other) and my banter didn’t connect. I completely lost my focus when I saw my ex’s sister and her husband in the audience. I love them and really respected them coming, but it threw me into chaos. Partly because I needed to read about my ex from the collection, partly because I carry a huge amount of grief from our breakup.

I started focusing on my voice, how masculine it was sounding, trying to find my range, and just fell into a disphoric spiral. I switched fully into instinctive mode, reacting in the moment and slapping out cutting lines until I gave up and just cut my set short. It did not feel like an accomplishment. It felt like a visceral fall into everything I’ve lost and a hard reminder of how my transition has wounded me. There are redeeming moments. It was one of the only time 4 racialized trans women have read together in Toronto. I think my trans girl allies and I modeled some form of solidarity and community building, which is very rare and precious. And the book is good, whatever else is going on.

I anticipated the launch would be a death blow. I spent yesterday alone in my bed, thinking about how my life has changed and how I go forward. Before the launch, I got to hang out with my editor, Kat V, and we walked around Toronto talking about poetry and boys. She is a loving and beautiful soul. I love other poets. She nurtured me in her quiet way, pushing me back towards myself and community. I also got to spend time with Lee and Gregory, two Indigenous writers I love and they mothered me collectively in the way only Indigenous women/2 spirits can.

Caught between those chaotic forces, I survived and go on. My deeper thought is around the burden of being trans in public, how hard it is to be more vulnerable than you have ever been before and give light/love out to a world which hates you. And that becomes your job as a trans woman, because you want to love other trans folks to counter balance the hate we live with and because it’s the only way cis people value/see you. Yet you are being destroyed on a daily basis by hatred. I get slurs shouted at me, I get hate messages in Twitter and through social media, I have men try to hit me up for violent sex on the down low, I have boys I love who won’t be with me in public, I lose friends for talking about being trans, I am slowly being killed by ignorance and fear.

And I’m expected and need to return love? The weight of that is impossible. I find it so strange that there is a silent majority watching my transition in my life who never say anything to me about it. Are they waiting to see if I fail? Is it curiosity? Am I a museum exhibit? Am I constructing transness for them? I hate them some days. I hate their commenting and their liking and the uselessness of their engagement. Someone just spit at me and your response is silence? Speak back. Stand up. Do something. Leverage your power to uplift trans women. And I don’t blame them. I understand, I get it, I don’t care, I can do this on my own, we can do this on our own, we’ve got this.

I leap back into the firestorm. I post again and again on being trans. I post selfies. I post near nudes. I meet the stupid boys for coffee. I educate. I teach. I try to model love. I focus on compassion. I like the fuck out of every person I see on social media who does something brave or honest or worthy. I retweet the fuck out of my trans girls. I post smart articles. I write about sexuality. I do the work because my Indigenous elders taught me that the work matters more than you do. The work is your job, the work is what the Creator hands you, the work is in your spirit and the work is what defines us as an Anishinaabe and Metis woman. We know how to work to build community, to safeguard a future, to give life.

I am tired. I am angry. I drowning in this moment. I am finding new strength. My community is giving me love. My poetry brings the land back to me. I’d like some help, but this is my fight. I’m trans in public. I’m trans in private. I make this up as I go along. I wish others saw me as real enough to deserve compassion. I wish I didn’t have to teach people to understand or love me. I don’t want likes or comments. I want change. It’s impossible to change the world from a place of oppression.

I’ve watched my elders work for their entire lives to change the world from oppression. I’ve watched aunties cook food, stack firewood, make lodges, hold sweats in their kitchens, give and give constantly. Because it’s the work which matters, not the individual. My ancestors survived 400 years of genocide. I can live through this. I don’t want to live anymore. I don’t want to die. I look back to my ancestors, I look forward to my communities. I fuck up. I try again.

I’m a river running west. I’m a new snowfall on a swamp. I’m a sparrow in a hedge of cedar, waiting for spring. I give up. I rise up. I’m trans in public. I’m not showing you what being trans means. I’m sharing my humanity. Trans is how you approach me, but it doesn’t have to be how I approach myself. You see a trans girl, you see 4 trans girls. I see a girl, I see 4 girls. We’re struggling in our private ways, we are standing together.

Survival isn’t a single moment. A transition isn’t a period of time. Survival is a philosophy of life. A transition is a ceremony. It’s complicated. I write to it, I live to it, I break and lose and grieve and return. I wrote something on Twitter before my launch which I love.

I would give everything up for the chance to be new with you again. (yes, I want to start over, yes I want to clean again, yes I want to wash away this hatred with love, yes I want you to make me feel like my life is possible again) A poet is simply a girl who learned to make her sorrow look like beauty. (yes a poet is someone who is in love with the entire world, yes a poet is a girl who creates a beauty she doesn’t have, yes a poet is a promise of transformation, yes I am still here, yes I create, yes I am simply a girl).

passage

Transition 15: Passage

I finally launch Passage in 5 days. An ending to the work of guiding this book into the world, a moment I’ve been thinking about since I wrote it. The life and people I imagined would exist when I finally launched the book does not exist. A different life will be there, different people as well. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but it’s what happened.

I look back to launching my first book. It was through Glad Day like this launch but in the old location. I had a friend read with me who is no longer a friend, lost to the fires of this transition. I think there will only be 2 cross over people between both launches. Sometimes we don’t recognize our lives, the richness and wonder we stand in. When I launched my first book, I did it with my ex partner, a close circle of friends, and spent the night drunk off champagne and dancing in a gay nightclub. It was full, an echo of a full life which felt like it was finally starting.

None of those friends will be there this time. My ex is happily dating a cis girl in another city. Which I’m glad of, as he is good man and deserves to be loved for it. There is more than absence in this moment. For the first time, I will be there at my launch. As myself, not hidden behind layers and holding back from the world. Does one arrival outweigh the departures? I’m not sure it’s an equal equation. It simply is the truth. A truth is is not simple but clear. A hard won truth, a truth blessed by the storm.

I have four quotes at the beginning of Passage. Four is an important number in my culture, four winds, four directions, four beings which help creation. I wanted to reflect on them as they have, for better or worse, come to frame this transition is a way I did not expect. My sign posts, my road map to myself.

My first quote is by Robin Blaser. He was an Queer American and Canadian poet, a key voice in the development of modern American poetics. He was active from the 1940s to the 1990s. He focused on the artistic concept of the ‘fire’, a symbolic force for him which represented the combination of spiritual and artistic creation. In a lecture from 1967, simply titled ‘The Fire’, he describes his artistic vision for the creation of poetry and life. He uses the line, ‘Burning up myself, I would leave fire behind me’, which is the line I quote at the beginning of Passage.

His entire lecture is worth reading, as it is a philosophy of poetry and a reflection of Blaser’s life. I connect with the phrase ‘Burning up myself, I would leave fire behind me’ because it’s a great image. It reflects two separate parts of this transition for me. The first is the destruction and renewal of myself. Fire is the destroyer but also the force of purification. I am destroying an old self, burning up who I used to be and revealing the self which survives the blaze. A literal transformation, I am burning an old body and life on the fires of rebirth.

The other way I connect to this quote is through the notion of disclosure and anger. I think anger is feared in Western culture, partly because it’s destructive and because of it’s power. We seem to fear open expression and rage, always putting our best self forward. What I fight against in my poetry is the suppression of truth. I disclose from my life, offering the most personal parts of who I am, because I believe it liberates everyone from silence. If we tell the truth, the truth spreads out. I’ve watched it happen since I started this transition. In a small way, I notice the people around me begin to say more personal things in their social media posts, take more revealing selfies, say more honest things to me, reach out and offer some personal connection. I’m not saying that’s because of me, but it’s relational to the work of building a space for truth around me.

So truth is also fire, purifying and destructive. It can also be anger. I am angry as I transition. Angry at ignorance, angry at violence, angry at erasure, and so often, angry at men. I’ve lived much of life being angry with me. My father, the boys at high school who tormented me, the boys in university who I had my first relationships with, the boys since then who’ve let me down or failed to see me. It’s a very female anger, one which we’re never allowed to express. I have to listen to stories of the men in other women’s lives and it makes me furious. And I love them, I’ve loved them all fiercely and loyally. Both emotions live together, my anger and my love.

I think this is an important dynamic in  my poetry but also in art broadly. The duality of creation and expression. Alice Munroe has a line about this where she writes that the act of telling someone’s story is an act of profound love. I think the act of creating any art is an act of love, of re-membering the person or moment back into the present. But also an act of rage, especially for a poet like me who writes about abuse and violence. I love you but I’m angry with you so I hold this moment up to light. I show your beauty and how you let me down in the same frame. Fire, purify and destroy.

And this transition is the same experience. Create a new being, destroy an old being. I am loving myself, I am angry with myself. I become, I disappear. Duality of purpose and being. It’s a kind of poetry. And behind me, I’m leaving fire.

My second quote is one which I’ve written about before. It’s by Audre Lorde, a Queer black female poet from America. She was and remains profoundly important to feminism and poetry of resistance. In a poem about survival, she writes that ‘it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive’. I come back to this line every day. The importance of voice, of speaking.

I live in a constant fear of being abandoned as I’ve transitioned. I rely on the support of cis folks in my life on a practical and emotional level. I need them to keep me employed and support me in my work as a poet/person. I need them to support me as my friends. I’ve developed this horrible habit of constantly checking my friends via Facebook to make sure they haven’t silently unfriended me. I’ve memorized the number of Facebook friends I have and I check to see if that number drops several times a day.

It’s a constant panic, a private pain. Because it keeps happening to me as I transition.It’s devastating to lose even a minor friend, someone I only know through social media. Because you lose so much during a transition that the pain combines into one loss, one singular grief which overwhelms the capacity for hope. Every time I post on Facebook, every time I make a comment, every time I like something, I’m afraid of what I will lose. Especially when I speak about being trans, especially when I show anger or grief or any emotion outside of the positive inspirational message which everyone demands of trans women.

And I push through it. And say what I want. Because of Audre Lorde’s quote. I try to speak clearly, speak softly, speak honestly, speak fairly, but just to speak. She writes about being afraid, of the fear of being someone who is so marginalized by the attention/violence of the dominant world that they can’t speak. But her statement is we will be afraid whether or not we speak, so speak. Because it is better to have voice than silence. I agree. It’s what makes me a poet.

My 3rd is Tim Dulgos, a section of the last poem he published before his early death from complications of AIDS in the early 1990s. He was a Queer poet who lived through the devastation of AIDS before there was proper medical care or attention. He writes:

I’ve trust enough in all
that’s happened in my life,
the unexpected love
and gentleness that rushes in
to fill the arid spaces
in my heart, the way the city
glow fills up the sky
above the river, making it
seem less than night.
Read the whole poem, g-9, sometime because it will change your life. But I love this section the most. It is an affirmation of the wonder of life under the most extreme circumstances. Tim writes it while in a hospital ward of men dying knowing he will soon die. It is a celebration of life, of chances and wonder. It is why we create art to me, to sing the world as it is. To show grace, to reveal truth, to honour the courage of the heart. I’ve held onto to this poem as I’ve transitioned.

Because in some way, as hard as this is and there are so many moments when I don’t think I live through another day of it, I come back to the faith in that wonder. I fall back into the soft beauty of the world, the light in the trees and the flow of life. Possibility surrounds us. So walk in wonder, bathe in hope. It may get better, it may not. But we go on until we don’t.

The final quote is by Adrienne Rich, a feminist poet from the States who was a student of Auden. She is profoundly important as well. She wrote an essay about truth and being a woman in which she writes ‘when a woman tells the truth, she creates the possibility for more truth around her’. And that’s what I try to do as a poet and a person. Tell the truth. Create openness. Make space for honesty.

I often wonder if I’m the only person who thinks about my art this intensely. Or even who thinks about life as intensely. I think it’s a character flaw but also a necessity. We fear questions too much. We walk away for hard things. We look for easy fixes. We doubt ourselves and others. We embrace the fear but not the possibility of change. Maybe it’s possible to create art without reflecting on other artists and your life, but I have to lean on the voices of the past and my memory to create poetry.

I want to stand in wonder, to ask and ask the world for truth, to chase myself through every moment and day. To think, to question, to speak, to love this world as deeply as I can. To be all of what I am, anger love joy hope fear desire and forgiveness. To sing in every cell. To regret nothing but light. To become her and by becoming her, to finally be rooted in the heart of the universe by threads I weave and choose.

To speak, to create, to burn. To light a way, to hold a star, to mark a trail. To survive and go on. To return to my home, live in ‘the infinite, the wild, the new’.

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Transition 14: Friends

There are so many hard parts to a transition, but one of the hardest is losing friends. There are the friends who quietly unfriend you on social media. There are the friends who say such horrible things to you that you silently pull away. There are also the friends who don’t unfriend you but start criticizing your choices and expression until it finally works it’s way back to you and you realize a friendship is over. I quickly learned that many people are ok with the idea of trans in general but very uncomfortable with the reality of being trans in specific. Many of people I expected to be allies haven’t been. Some of them have been active opponents.

I always feel there is an unspoken message that it’s ok to be trans, but don’t talk about it. Don’t challenge, don’t question, don’t push back on the cis majority. I’ve bucked that trend. I name and speak to my experiences as a trans girl, because they’re my experiences. I’m not ashamed of being what I am. And I also have an understanding and openness to my expression of being  trans, because I recognize I’m human and working through a changing identity.

For example, I lost two friends for using the word ‘cis’ because they perceive it as an insult. Instead of asking me what it meant, they decided it was offensive to cis people and that they were just ‘normal’. This is exactly why the word exists in the first place, as a way to talk about difference without using the word normal to describe cis people. It shouldn’t be that it’s trans girls on one side and ‘normal’ girls on the other. Our difference is not because one of us is real or one of us is deviant. We’re different types of one category, girls broadly. There are lot of subsets within girls. None of us are ‘normal’. We’re all distinct and that’s ok.

So when I say cis vs trans, I’m highlighting the differences between our bodies, our experiences, and not framing cis girls as the marker for judging all girls. We all get to belong and ‘cis’ is way to make language reflect that. I find the reaction to cis similar to how people react to the word ‘white’. White people get upset with that word, but still use words like ‘black people’ or ‘asians’. We need ways to talk about difference which don’t frame the thing we are as the centre and everything else as the deviation. It’s not an insult unless you think trans girls aren’t girls. I think that was the underlying issue here, being offended about the word ‘cis’ when they were really offended by the word ‘trans’.

People try to hide their prejudice behind a veil of politeness. It’s a very Canadian thing. And people seem to have gotten the message that it’s not cool to discriminate against trans girls. So they don’t explicitly discriminate, just subtly find ways to remind you that you are different and don’t belong. Or say things to you like the only guys who would be interested in you are secretly gay. Or you’re just asserting the identity of a woman. Some small way to tell you that you don’t belong, that you’re just an identity experiment, not a whole person, not real like cis people are.

As a trans girl, you are supposed to accept that. Just smile and walk away. Understand that people don’t understand. Accept the constant invalidation of who you are. Because you don’t want to upset the cis people in your life. Because you rely on the cis people in your life to hire you, to protect you in social spaces, to date you, to see you are human. Because the cis people in your life have all the social and economic power. Because you have to be one of the ‘nice’ trans people, not the scary activist trans people.

How can you live within that reality without speaking back to it? I can’t. I speak to it, I break the rules, I make a mess. I’m not apologizing for it. I can be nice and critical of the interactions which frame my life. Both things are possible. And important to me, vital to my survival. I don’t understand the instinct to judge and shame others for expression. When I see other people express themselves, I support it. I make a point of validating and reaching out to confirm what I see. I comment on things, I like stuff. I am generous with likes. I want to support a world where we can all exist and celebrate and be angry and be human. I’m not scared of the truth.

There is always a balance between challenging and being a person. I’m sure I step over it constantly. I always remind myself to talk less about trans, even though I think everyone else is constantly talking about what they are even if they don’t realize it. I’ve said it before but my social media is full of people talking about being cis. They just see themselves as ‘normal’ so they don’t say it, but it’s true. And a good thing. They should express who they are. All of us should.

Sitting in a dark corner criticizing other people in private doesn’t make your life better. If you have a criticism, it should be about something important and public. Or speak to the person involved. If the word cis upsets you, ask me why I use it. If you’re going to defriend me for being trans, let me know first. Be honest about your prejudice. If you believe in it strongly enough that the sight of me makes you uncomfortable, you should be able to articulate to me that you disapprove of my gender and body.

Because your judgement is not going to be how I see myself. I remember a former friend posting on Facebook in the early days of my transition, ‘dress however you want, but just shut up about it!’. The message is be trans but don’t talk about it. Which is really a message of erasure, of being a second class citizen in life. We’ll let you be trans but don’t take up any space. Don’t act like everyone else. Don’t do the things every girl does. Be a girl but less than every other girl.

I don’t buy it. More importantly, I don’t want that for myself or any other trans girl. We should be as human as everyone else. Some trans girls will be quiet because that’s who they are. Some trans girls will be loud, because that’s who we are. But we should have the freedom to be ourselves, not living in fear of losing friends for speaking up. We need to stop framing silence and silent creeping as noble. We need to value articulation and voice as important as well.

This is becoming a longer rant than I want. It’s not even a rant. It’s a conversation back with the friends I’ve lost. I’m sorry I’m trans but I’m not sorry. I’m sorry you don’t understand but you didn’t ask. I’m sorry you are offended but you weren’t really listening. I’m sorry you think my body isn’t real but it is. I’m sorry we aren’t friends anymore but I had to live an honest life as the girl I am or I would have died. I’m sorry the word ‘cis’ upsets you but I’m not going to describe you are ‘normal’. I’m as normal as you are.

What I’ve never understood is the response to my transition. If I see someone struggling to do something difficult and painful, I cheer them on. My instinct to protect and support when I see someone struggling. I always try to use whatever capacity I have to lift up voices which are silenced. I was raised to believe in compassion and empathy. I am as flawed as the rest of us and I can be a mega bitch, but the place I try to come back to is kindness. Why criticize someone at one of the hardest parts of their life? Why abandon someone when they need the support of others most?

I don’t have an answer to that question. I don’t think they are bad people. In some ways, they are good people. But is being trans really so threatening? Is using the word ‘cis’ so offensive and unforgivable? Or am I experiencing the reality of being one of the most marginalized and oppressed groups in human history? The only difference is my life from before is my transness. I was just as as outspoken as a boy. So what changed in our friendship?

I became something you don’t believe in. I became something you fear and refuse to understand. I became a threat to your beliefs about the world. I didn’t have to be but I can’t change your discomfort with who I am. Only you can. But you choose to walk away. And that makes this transition that much harder.

Which, if we’re being honest, doesn’t really bother me. I can do hard. I have done this on my own so far. What I do grieve is the loss of friendships which were important to me. Other trans girls warned me before I transitioned: everything will change, everyone in your life will change. Very few people will stick around. They’ve been right, but there were some people I thought would beat the odds. I was wrong.

How many friends have I lost? Most of them. Almost 90%. All of them in response to me being trans, either directly through things they’ve said to me about trans people or indirectly by not talking/engaging with me anymore. I’ve made new friends, other trans girls who understand and a few cis people. But yes, my life has shrunk dramatically. It’s normal from what I’ve heard from other trans people, but it is devastating.

And natural in a way. As one life dies and a new life is born, people fall away. Very few people have been able to know me as who I was and embrace me as who I am now. One of former friends said to me that it was like I was a completely different person. And I wanted to say back, but didn’t, ‘of course I am? What did you think a transition was?’. New life, new body, new girl.

I survive this transition by talking about it. I feel the pain, accept the loss, grieve the experience, affirm what I’m doing, and hold the moment up to the light. I explore and question and overthink it. I’m a very analytical person, prone to introspection and probing the painful parts of everything. It’s a weakness but also a strength. It makes me the poet I am. I was raised by social workers, so it’s an occupational hazard.

I know there is a price for speaking the truth. I learned the cost of being different and asking questions when I was a kid. But I come back to two key pivotal statements by poets I respect and model myself after:

 

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive

Audre Lorde, a litany for survival

and:

This is why the effort to speak honestly is so important. Lies are usually attempts to make everything simpler — for the liar — than it really is, or ought to be.

In lying to others we end up lying to ourselves. We deny the importance of an event, or a person, and thus deprive ourselves of a part of our lives. Or we use one piece of the past or present to screen out another. Thus we lose faith even within our own lives.

The unconscious wants truth, as the body does.

Adrienne Rich, On Lying

and also:

When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.

and finally:

The possibilities that exist between two people, or among a group of people, are a kind of alchemy. They are the most interesting thing in life. The liar is someone who keeps losing sight of these possibilities.

It isn’t that to have an honorable relationship with you, I have to understand everything, or tell you everything at once, or that I can know, beforehand, everything I need to tell you.

It means that most of the time I am eager, longing for the possibility of telling you. That these possibilities may seem frightening, but not destructive, to me. That I feel strong enough to hear your tentative and groping words. That we both know we are trying, all the time, to extend the possibilities of truth between us.

The possibility of life between us.

Adrienne Rich, On Lying

This what I believe in. Truth, possibility, and openness to the world. To be afraid to speak but to still speak. To be honest, to be human, to be whole. I respect it isn’t for everyone, but it gives me a strength to live through this transition which I don’t think I could survive otherwise. And honesty costs me friends and lovers. It’s a hard price, but one I think is worth paying. If I can’t trust you to listen first and question me gently, I can’t trust with you with my body or my love. My body is a conversation, my life is a dialogue. I can’t make you participate in it or value it, but I can’t be silent. Because whether or not I speak back, my life will be controlled by how you understand me. If I don’t try to explain, I may as well accept a lifetime of invisibility.

The one gift of being trans is learning that being loved/seen for what you are not is more painful than the cost of being seen for what you are. I’ve lived 29 years in the shadow of a gender and a body I didn’t choose and never wanted. I won’t spend the rest of life in another kind of dishonesty, trading one prison for a new cell block. A whole girl or nothing.