On Being Trans

I thought for a while about what I wanted to ramble about this week, and I figured, hey, why not drop the proverbial cherry bomb in the proverbial outhouse? This is probably not the wisest selection criteria I could have used, but hey, being trans is in fact fairly central to my life, and I’m going to talk about it sooner or later. It makes up too much of my life, and the lives of many of my friends. We’re unusually highly represented in my community, at about three times the baseline rate.

So first, a quick overview:
For anyone who’s reading this and doesn’t know, transgender people are people who don’t feel comfortable / identify with the sex we were assigned at birth. This usually goes further than the traditional idea of “tomboys” – trans people generally want to or do modify our bodies to be closer to those we want / need. Tomboys are much more frequent in the population, to the best of my knowledge; they are generally AFAB (Assigned Female At Birth) people who are interested in “boy things” in their youth. At least in my society, this is less, though not free of, stigma, as one grows older – adult women, at this place and time in history, can have whatever hobbies and interests they want (Sort of. Better than it was. We have a long way to go yet). AMAB (Assigned Male At Birth) people don’t have a traditional role like this; there’s a spoken word clip at the beginning of Madonna’s “What It Feels Like For a Girl” that points pretty squarely at, at least, an interpretation of the cause of this.

Girls can wear jeans
And cut their hair short
Wear shirts and boots
‘Cause it’s OK to be a boy
But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
‘Cause you think that being a girl is degrading.

Is this true? Probably not entirely as stated, but it’s pretty clear in most human societies that a female-bodied person who wants to act in a masculine fashion, it might not be accepted, but it’s at least understandable. Men get to do stuff, women get to clean stuff. And have babies. And be talked down to, considered less competent, assumed to be of a lower work level (One gendered book I saw for children once said, “Boys are pilots. Girls are stewardesses.”) and just, generally, treated as second-class citizens. I don’t think I need to delve truly deeply into this, although if there’s a strong response that I should have, I might get into it more in a later ramble.

So wanting some of that sweet, sweet male privilege is understandable, and to some degree acceptable, with large local variance. But to be male-bodied, and not be all-in on masculinity? Well, not only are you breaking categories, you’re doing it in a way that does not make sense. Try growing up AMAB and not caring about sports, cars, or violence. It’s a solid ticket to being an outcast, and in lots of cases, abuse, both mental and physical.

For myself, I can only speak to the M2F side of being trans; I never wanted to be a man, and while I can imagine my situation in the inverse abstractly, I can’t move myself into that picture. Sure, I like being able to do what I want, but honestly? Men don’t even seem to really have that. Be the breadwinner. Be strong. Don’t be seen to have strong emotions, aside from anger. Don’t ever, ever, break masculinity. When I was apparently male, there were expectations on me, and while I was particularly antipathic due to my own tendencies, I’d probably have been rebellious just because of the number of expectations laid on me, for having a Y-chromosome. I’ve never taken well to expectations I didn’t agree to, and I found these ones particularly foolish, when I was subject to them.

On the other hand, privilege… I could walk down the streets without being catcalled (Which has happened once since my transition. Not sure if I live in civilized places, or I don’t pass well enough to be interesting for that) and be out at night alone without worrying much if the guy behind me had ill intent for me. I was assumed to be competent technically, and that to study STEM subjects was a perfectly natural thing for me to do.

On the whole, none of this was worth it to me. It wasn’t that I hated having these things, but the baggage they came with sucked. I had to pretend to be a man for it. Swagger, know about sportsball, don’t visibly feel things, those were bad. More simply, every time I heard, {he, his, masculine flavored statement(“Oh, you’re so handsome!“)} they were like a knife in my heart. The shape of the hole in society I was expected to fill was an Iron Maiden, and eventually I rejected it.

It’s not that I was confused about my gender identity. I resolved the central question of that for myself in the mid-90’s, when an MUD named Holy Mission asked me, “Do you want to be male, or female?” (And notice the ‘normal’ ordering of that question. Woman is the ‘or’ choice. Male is the default in our society – people are male until proven otherwise, there’s a lot of medical research that needs to be redone because women weren’t part of the test cases and it works differently, with our hormonal balance. Consider the rare case where the trope is inverted, in *Turn the Page*, “Is it woman? Is it man?” is explicitly about using this to assault someone’s identity.) it was like a bolt of lightning. Suddenly, a vast amount of my discontent had a focus, and I had a much more complete idea of who I was. It took me more than a decade to act on that awareness, due to a number of circumstances. Deciding to transition, and then acting on it, are hard choices to make.

David Foster Wallace said something that is fairly close to my experience, here:

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

It wasn’t that I wanted to face all of the shit our world gives women, nor the extra helping I could expect for being a gender-nonconforming AMAB, but not doing so, facing other day of being, “him”‘d, and “sir”‘d, and having to pretend to be something I wasn’t, was just outright more painful than not. I don’t know that not transitioning would have killed me, but it certainly felt like the next time I got deadnamed, I was going to play in traffic, because that pain seemed more manageable. At the least, briefer.

(For the record I’ve largely resolved my issues with wanting to cease. I want to live for a billion years, minimum, these days.)

So I just… went for it. Put on a strappy top and some pants from my girlfriend, and went to the grocery store. Pushed forward on it, or at least, maintained a fence on how far I was willing to back down, and tried to keep rolling that edge forward. It was scary, but not compared to what I’d been feeling.

Now, to the central idea I had in mind, that led me to pour all of this out: Being trans kind of sucks. Not, having transitioned. That was necessary and good (“It’s easy, there’s a trick to it, you do it or you die.” – Neil Gaiman) and I don’t regret it. But if I could just wave a wand and have a cisfeminine body, I certainly would. I do not love my testosterone scars, in my bones, my skull, or my voice, and I see no compelling reason to keep them if I didn’t have to. Being trans is not a choice I would ever have made, given actual options.

That said, I’m here now, and it hasn’t been the worst of all possible journeys. I’ve made some amazing friends, and had life experiences I never would have had, without it. I’ve seen gender from both sides, and I still have some perspective that differs from both, because a part of me has and will always be outside the two primary clusters that human gender largely orbits. I would not benefit from changing my history to be cisfeminine from the outset of life (much as many timeslices have wished for that in pain) and on the whole, I value the perspective I’ve gained.

But trans lives are hard, we give up a lot just to feel okay in our bodies, and if you, dear reader, are someone who thinks that we need to be shamed / punished / scared out of it, shame on you. My brothers and sisters and nonbinary siblings don’t deserve your hate, disgust, or “help” in the form of trying to change who we are. We’re just humans, trying to get by, with kind of a sucky deal (Not the worst, not the best, but I’m not convinced from the inside that any given condition will be “worst”. Martina found immense joy in a life that from the outside, I would have hated.)

If our existence bothers you, just look away. You’ll be choosing the side of the powerful (“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. -Desmond Tutu), but omission is at least slightly better than commission here. Stop making it harder on us. We’re not out to get you, or perverts, or after a cheap thrill. We’re just trying to live our lives, as much as anyone else, and isn’t this world hard enough on thinking, feeling meat, without us beating each other up?

Join me this time next week, when I share my thoughts on people actively campaigning against us!