transition

picture coming out. the traditional setting. walking up to your parents and saying “mom, dad, i’m gay.” and whatever ensues, whether it’s “no son of mine” or “no matter what.”

now imagine you have to do it for months continuously in front of everyone in your entire life all at the same time and spend tens of thousands of dollars to do it. and the longer it goes on, the harder it is to hide.

transition is a scary word, innit?

the end result is seductive, of course. finally getting to feel good about my own body, hot damn. scratching a long lingering itch. take some drugs, get cut open in thailand, voila. it’s all legitimate and real and tangible and hearts and unicorns. it’s not real until the almighty gatekeeper tells you it is.

at the risk of sounding corny, i much prefer the term journey to transition. transition has so much baggage, such a strong narrative that it’s become toxic. maybe you sound like a space cadet when you call it a journey, but it’s more inclusive, more personal, and you don’t have to do anything that you’re “supposed” to.

my journey involved years of denial, on and off cross dressing, crying at a roller derby bout, dating a lady who saw me as a girl first, contemplating names, performing fiona apple and tlc at karaoke en femme, wearing skirts and getting an undercut, counseling others, writing policy, getting interviewed, talking about pronouns, consulting and blogging. lots of steps towards womanhood and i’m on the cusp of something even greater that excites me to no end. is that a transition? transition implies i know where i’m headed, but journey says i’m free to discover and experiment and find my own path to gender enlightenment.

when i do something to legitimize my gender identity that makes me so excited i can barely hold it in, it’s as important and meaningful a change as any, but it’s not a transition. it’s a journey. transition says you were one thing and now you’re another thing. but i’m just me, and i’m doing so many things to make my journey worthwhile. maybe i will be the other thing someday. but my whole life has been one gradual transition towards that thing, and i’m gonna keep transitioning until i die.

i am already 27 years into my transition. that’s a lot less scary.

choices

GLAAD, an advocacy group that seeks to educate the media about the LGBT community, includes both identity and behavior in its definition:

Transgender: An umbrella term (adj.) for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term may include but is not limited to: transsexuals, cross-dressers and other gender-variant people.

Such a broad definition could also be problematic. According to Logan Casey, a political science student at the University of Michigan, it could lead to transgender identities being dismissed as “just a choice.” Casey, who publicly identifies as a trans man, believes that could undermine support for transgender rights.

FiveThirtyEight

emphasis mine.

so, what’s wrong with choice?

you might have seen videos of smug gay rights activists asking generally open minded straight people when they “chose to be straight.” and the straight person chuckles in agreement, that yes, it is a ridiculous proposition.

i chose to be straight when i asked my grade school crush if she wanted to go out. i chose to be straight when i kissed the assistant stage manager of a play i was in freshman year of high school between act 2 and act 3 of the final performance. i chose to be straight when i accepted my first girlfriend’s invitation to the mall, and i chose to be straight when i first made out with my future wife on the floor of her parents’ living room nearly ten years ago. i did a lot of choosing.

dismissing choice as trivial was one of the most hurtful things to my recognition of my identity. for the longest time i couldn’t resolve it. i didn’t hate being male. i didn’t look at my body in the mirror and feel revulsion. i didn’t feel like i was one gender or the other. it was never where i was standing, it was the direction the wind was blowing.

i felt like being transgender meant i had to clear some sort of bar, that i had to ‘identify’ as female. but that’s not right. i don’t ‘identify’ as male either. i like to live my life transgender. minimizing the importance of choice in identity dehumanizes and can lead to a whole bunch of denial and self-doubt. my gender identity is a collection of the things i want to do, the ways i want to be perceived, but every practical concern is about not discriminating against me for making those choices and accepting those choices as normal and healthy, even therapeutic and positive. if i want to make a decision in a “girls only” or “boys only” space, my gender nonconformity should not be a hurdle. choosing is the action verb here.

what’s the difference between longing to put on makeup and craving a piece of pizza? shit, nothing. and working on my eyeliner and getting a slice at beggar’s have about the same cosmic impact on the universe. and should i do each every day, i might have unique healthcare needs down the road – bypass surgery and hormones, in no particular order. but we take care of people when they make the choice to clog their arteries – why not take care of people when they make the choice to transition?

saying that transgender isn’t a choice, it’s how you were born, talks about being transgender like it’s a condition or a disease. it asks for pity – we have no control over it, we’re subjected to this horror. but being transgender is actually awesome. no, it’s not awesome to be a member of a group that has a 40% suicide attempt rate. but it’s awesome to be able to make my choices, my beautiful transgender choices, that make me happy. i deserve to be happy on my own terms.

queer of the year

yesterday i was named to the Windy City Times 30 Under 30. i actually found out about a month ago, they just waited until the day before the ceremony to announce it.

when i got the email, i was very surprised. i don’t know if someone i know nominated me, but as far as i can tell it was based off my windy city times interview, which i thought was quite unremarkable. hey, i’m trans, but that doesn’t change who i am, is what i said. at some level finding out i’m trans is like finding out i like hip hop. it’s just a thing about me. not to say being trans is a small thing, just that the only thing that’s changed is that you know i’m into dresses.

put it another way – i do cool stuff, but just because this thing is in my head, i get honored? peculiar. it’s like honoring me for wearing glasses sometimes. so brave.

i don’t know. i think what’s bothering me about it is that i probably should have made the list next year. i’m baffled at what they saw in me from my brief interview about how sometimes i cross-dress and no one gives a shit that i’m trans. they didn’t know about the mrda nondiscrimination policy or most of my activism and consulting work or my cool haircut or my work in mentorship (which really just came up in the last few weeks). they just know i’m a queer athlete who has had some success. maybe it was just that i’m normal-ish and successful-ish and trans. i just have so much more to do, and i don’t feel like i’ve done enough to earn the honor. and they’re putting me onstage with like 7 HIV activists for goodness sake. but most people didn’t know about my identity until the article came out and i haven’t exactly been keeping the windy city times abreast of my progress.

so i mean, it’s really awesome to get the award and i fully intend on exceeding expectations. i’m honored and humbled and flabbergasted and flattered and all that stuff, not as a point of irony or banality, but actual, legitimate humbling. i have so, so much to do.

not all women

if there was a concise way to describe the #notallmen/#yesallwomen conversation, it is that women have to go through shit that men don’t go through, and when a man says that not all men are like that, he stops making the conversation about women, and starts making the conversation about him.

with that in mind, allow me to make this conversation about me.

i am currently for all practical purposes a white male, so i have the most demographic privilege a modern person can have. i aspire not only to be female, which would require a sacrifice of much of that privilege, but a transwoman, which sacrifices a large amount of the remaining privilege. i’ve had one experience with a dude getting too creepy while i was en femme, and that was relatively harmless. i suspect my luck wouldn’t continue.

for me, #yesallwomen is not about shutting up and listening to women’s experiences, nor is it about discussing my own experiences. it’s a terrifying future that someday i will have to face. i feel misplaced empathy with #notallmen, but that’s because i am scared and alienated. the unstoppable force inside me is on a collision course with the immovable object of society.

#yesallwomen is about highlighting what divides us, but the central friction in my life is that divide. the friction is that whenever a women’s issue comes up, i feel as if i’m on both sides, and neither. like i should be able to understand it, to represent it, to speak on it, but i cannot. that’s the misplaced empathy. there are those that understand, and those that can never understand, and then there’s us. what do i conclude? that i want to go out there and get some oppression under my belt? that the real way to foster sisterhood is to start suffering? that’s dumb. i’m all about self-love – there’s no such thing as being “trans enough,” but clinging to my privilege is more than enough to make me feel like i’m without a tribe.

being trans isn’t a choice, but pulling the trigger and transitioning is. so when i say i’m making this important topic about me, i really mean i’m making this about how the #yesallwomen conversation affects aspiring transwomen, because we’re invested in this conversation too. not in a “not all men are men!” way, though that’s the screaming impulse i have to suppress, but because we have to understand what we’re opting into. i’m certain that in the future i will have to throw off my security blanket and embark on a journey that is bound to be more personally fulfilling and self-affirming than anything i’ve ever done before. i will enjoy becoming what i’ve always known myself to be in pursuit of inner peace. but that requires an enormous amount of bravery – similar to the bravery that ladies need to have just to do ordinary shit. in the end the risk is worth the reward, and if millions of other ladies can find a way to live life without getting paralyzed by fear, well, i’m enough.

#notallwomen live with harassment, but that’s only because the reality of #yesallwomen is enough to push us back into the closet. and i guess that’s a kind of indirect harassment.

well maybe not all the way back into the closet, but I am definitely hiding under a coat.

pronouns

i wrote this in march after a piece about me in the windy city times came out

so i got a couple supportive messages about the article from yesterday, which is pretty cool. they made me happy. the pronoun question came up a couple of times.

i am thrilled that when you read about what has been the most difficult and personal struggle for me your first reaction was one of support. that is really great and you are really kind. but i am currently uncomfortable dictating how people talk to or about me.

it’s totally your right to choose your pronoun! you have the right to tell people “this is who i am, so treat me with respect.” and maybe someday on my journey i will arrive at a place where i can do that. but the most important thing to me is that i am still the same person that i am a week ago. that was kind of what i was trying to communicate in the interview, that i don’t have to change for everyone else, that i never saw myself as one gender or the other, that it’s not so much about where i am as about where the wind is blowing. as rote as it sounds, i am just being myself. i’m happy that you can see more of me, but i haven’t been secretly seething at anyone.

one of the things that simonis and i have gotten at in our work on gender policy in sport is that we are all the same person we were yesterday. setting some arbitrary line in a gender policy that says you’re eligible for this yesterday and that today takes your journey away from you. maybe being accepted by your peers is the first step of your journey, and maybe it’s the last. maybe the pronoun is the first thing you want to tackle. maybe it’s your wardrobe, maybe it’s hormones or surgery or your name or what your driver’s license says. there are a lot of steps i’m not ready to take. maybe there are some i’ll never take.

as important as the pronoun question is, mandating usage one way or the other is not a step i’m ready to take. i don’t think of myself as having or lacking a gender. that’s not part of my self-image. if you see me in one way or another, use the word that fits with that. if you don’t, use what comes naturally. i might change my mind down the road, but until that day comes, you have a free pass. to quote the great poet rupaul charles, “You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis and Kathie Lee; I don’t care! Just as long as you call me.”