This might, believe it or not, be one of the scariest confessions I have to make right now. Perhaps that’s why I feel the need to post it. Trans folk, take this moment to grab a buddy, a fuzzy blanket, cat, blunt, beer or comfort device/support person of your choosing.
CW: I don’t know yet Misgendering, outdated language, loose use of binary terms based on knowledge at the time… um, probably generally uncomfortable shit. Look at the title. I will say that this is a confession of self-doubt, doubting others and how that came to change.
14 years ago, I discovered a wikipedia article that changed my life. But first:
I was 13 and hating life as many of us do at that time. It was awkward and I was still pursuing a career in film (when we still had a film industry here and shit was good) which meant as a black “female” I was expected to have my hair permanently straightened. It also meant I was a girl and should look like one – no questions asked. But I never went for the kind of clothes people dressed me in. Not even close. I would gravitate to cargo and painter pants, hoodies or grey sweaters, sporty clothing and the like. I was fighting with my mother every time we went shopping. I LOATHED shopping with my mom. I remember being forced to wear dresses on outings and getting reprimanded for wanting to compromise. But I also remember that first pair of jeans that looked like “boys” jeans. They felt like they belonged. Like they presented me the way I wanted to present myself. And damn was that liberating. I just had to excuse the fact that my underwear band said “Sporty Girl” and the tapered cut of my t-shirts. I fought so hard to get the clothes I wanted, even though I was constantly harassed at school and even shoved and kicked around. I didn’t care. It was closer to the me I wanted people to see. The hair? Well. That’s another story for another time, but it certainly didn’t quite belong either.
One night while I was at my friend’s place and surfing the web, I took it upon myself to look up “sex-change.” I was curious as to what that entailed, who did such things, was it a real thing and if so, how real? But then I read about “Female to Male Transgender.” I had honestly thought “Men got sex changes into women,” and that was that. I had never thought it was offered for all bodies. It never made the media in my world. As I read through the article, my friend and his brother magically appeared over my shoulder. It turns out that I was reading aloud in confused wonder and amazement. Then I read again silently. It was me! I never had a name for it. I didn’t know what I was. Hell, I was a barking dog until I was 6 or so, so like, maybe there was a boy inside me or something. I had no idea. All I knew is I found a description that matched a feeling I didn’t think anyone else felt. But remember, I was still fighting my mom about what I could wear.
Now this is the story all about how that happy shit went upside down.
I was 15 and in a Catholic school. No nuns. Just…all girls. In skirts. It was partially my choice, initially, to attend Sacred Heart School of Halifax. I had just come out as bisexual in my previous public school and was interrupted from suicide attempts. We figured, lets give private school a go and get away from the blatant homophobia and bullying. Nope. Being in such a gendered space – a highly gendered space, was BEYOND uncomfortable. The best part was going to and from, because that blazer and tie felt great with “those jeans.” It was the affirmation I needed. Or so I thought. Approaching the school before class was when my stomach turned – knowing it was mandatory for me to change into a skirt before the bells rang. Upset stomach every day, got old and fast.
I eventually left SHSH after grade 10. Not because I was uncomfortable. But because I failed classes…lol. It was a new public school that helped me finally, at age 17 decide that not only was I going to chop of my long locks, but come out to my mother as transgender. She accepted it, sort of. Pronouns came years later, but now she had every reason to “let me” wear what I want and do what I want with my hair, without harassment…sort of. At this point I was already out to my closest friends – one who was also at the time, though now distant, identifying as female to male trans. We’ll call them Barry.
Barry was never feminine, but rather neutral. More of a dapper, fanciful man who liked to be pretty. I appreciated his boldness and assertiveness. He never gave a shit about passing. I still think he occasionally dresses like sailor scouts and geisha’s, with no hormone treatments or surgery. He’ll just walk up to you, shake your hand and say, “Hi, I’m a BOY! Name’s Barry.” And continue on the conversation. Over the years this began to puzzle me. I was living on my own with a girlfriend and finally in an environment where everybody, including employers, used the proper pronouns and I felt like I was well on my way with packers and binders, as well as a foot in the local queer community. I thought, “Seriously dude. Make up your mind! If you want to be a guy, why don’t you transition?” But I never said this to him. Nobody questioned Barry. Not even me.
As I continued to attend GSA conferences, lectures and meet more and more from the trans community, I learned that not all people want surgery or hormone treatments and some did not consider themselves male or female. At that point some people still confused me and I must say I did not handle it well. What’s worse, is I thought that I did. I learned what non-binary was. I at first felt like that oh-so-convenient wikipedia article was no longer valid and I had to re-assess my gender identity all over again. Truth be told, I still question it here and there. The worst part, though, about all of this, is the fact that I had been really rude to people in the past.
I was dating somebody who went back and forth from binary to non-binary pronouns, and dressed very femme. Felt it was his job to fuck with people’s perception of gender, would wear dresses, makeup, tights, heels etc. and then get butthurt when somebody continued to get his/their pronouns wrong. I thought to myself, “If you’re a trans dude, why not try to pass until you get hormones?” Could he seriously expect people to understand or get it right when his eyebrows are painted on and he’s wearing a chiffon dress? I eventually got frustrated with this. I couldn’t understand. I started to say things that made him question what to wear, or how to present himself. I criticized him. A lot. In fact, so did one of our mutual non-binary friends, for reasons outside of gender identity, but still I was confused about my ex. I felt like somebody was actually going out of their way to be misunderstood so that more queer people would like them. They admitted to making a choice about their gender identity and this stung. I thought trans wasn’t a choice. It wasn’t my or many of my trans friends choices. Why choose to be oppressed? I thought I understood something I clearly couldn’t see.
Before I get into the here and now, I want to say that I am ashamed of my behavior in the past. While I did not understand and tried to, I was a huge jerk in my ignorance and for that I am sorry. To anybody who was negatively affected by my words, my ex who may be viewing this and any enbies who questioned their safety around me, I am deeply sorry. Nobody has the right to tell you how to be you in the world and just because I have a transgender experience, it does not mean I know how every trans person feels.
As I sit here right now, I can say I have learned a few things. First thing I need to mention is that I have passing privilege and that is not true for everyone. I did not always pass, I went through some shit to get here, but some of us don’t pass and may never pass. Passing is not what trans is about. I also, now find the binary rather unnecessary and am starting to see how it is inherently oppressive. While I agree that some people are comfortable in binary terms(like myself) and/or may fit the description society has laid out for that gender, we all have our own perception of gender. And why does gender matter to us so much? Does it have to? Yes, I still call myself ‘he/him’ just as I secretly did as a child, and to be honest, hormones have affected my feelings about myself and others. They have changed the way I experience anger and sadness, arousal, hunger and even the cold. Surgery is not going to make me any more of a “real man” than I am now. I hate that term. Hormones have made me more comfortable in my body, but I was just as much a man before them as I am now. I am trans enough and so is anybody who says they are trans. He/him pronouns and male identity just always seemed to fit for me somehow and I wish I knew how to explain that. But am I holding onto society’s version of “being a man”? Fuck no. I’m being my own man, and sometimes that STILL looks pretty fuckin queer.
Sorry some queers are asshats, but they too can change.
Much love xoxo/ ❤ / cake