Marissa Explains it All #43 – Addiction Morality

I’m going to spend an entry today talking about something that in which, admittedly, I have very little personal experience. With opiates being declared a public health crisis once again, I couldn’t help but notice the way in which addiction and drug use are approached in this country.

If you’ve ever watched an episode of COPS, most of the time, the targets of their stops and investigations are related to drug use and possession. The 80s saw the launch of the war on drugs. People, primarily those of color, are arrested and kept in the for-profit, quota-based prison system for drug charges.

Yet, Indiana recently ended a needle-exchange program that reduced the spread of infection by 80-percent, and they used a vague Bible quote to justify its removal. Seattle, a city that lives on the mirage of being progressive so that the giant corporations aren’t disturbed during their gentrification and homeless relocation projects, ends needle-exchange programs. Most of the time, ending existing programs, or refusing to start new ones, are approached from a point of selective morality.

When I say selective morality, what I mean by that is picking and choosing which substances are bad, and painting those who use the bad ones as criminals; not to mention, deciding that persons of color using are criminals and selling, but young white kids are just experimenting and made poor decisions, but that’s another conversation.

My brother-in-law and former roommate once told the story of his uncle being incarcerated for heroin, and when he asked what rehabilitation he would have access to, he was told, “you’re not here to be rehabilitated, you’re here to be punished.” That’s the mentality we’re dealing with when it comes to drugs, and it’s no coincidence that the War on Drugs was a product of the Moral Majority.

When I was in elementary school in the early 90s, we had anti-drug assemblies constantly. We also had anti-smoking and anti-drinking ones, but those were different. The anti-drinking ones were only “underage” drinking-based. The anti-smoking ones were health-based. The anti-drug ones though were about drugs being bad, and (drug users being bad.)

It gets more selective than that. Caffeine is as addictive as any of these drugs, and withdrawal symptoms are very similar. Headache, crankiness, fatigue, cravings… All symptoms anyone who has tried to quit something addictive experiences. When it’s drugs, it’s called detox – the word implied being that the substance you’ve been using and now are not was toxic and needs to be cleansed. In other words, you need to be cleansed because what you were using was dirty and therefore made you dirty. Funny enough though, if the addiction is coffee, put your anger symptoms on a t-shirt and it becomes a witty anecdote. Or having a glass of wine being on your must-haves list is fine, but smoking a joint (although less so nowadays) is stigmatized.

Let’s go back to the idea of not being rehabilitated but being punished though. The way this country frames this narrative is that if you’ve gotten addicted to something that we don’t care for, you’re a criminal and deserve to be punished for it. However, if it’s alcohol, you’re only a bad person if we catch you driving after using it (and therefore can make a lot of money off it.)

When you raise a generation that ostensibly teaches that anyone who uses any kinds of drugs (Except the kind we’ve made legal) is bad, trying to sell it, doesn’t care about you, and is an awful person who needs to be punished, is it any wonder that we treat those who have become addicts and seek help like criminals instead of people who are sick? Even the idea of rehabilitation is stigmatized and mocked, painted in the usual Bullshit Bootstrap narrative of that you couldn’t do it yourself, so you must be weak. The same narrative flows through 12-Step programs that make you accept that you have no control and are weak before your addiction; nevermind the religious overtones that go along with it.

All that being said, I’ve never used most drugs, and I probably never will. But that doesn’t mean that I think my friends who do are bad people. I don’t think that means anyone who does deserves to go to prison for the rest of their lives. I don’t think that means that anything that is designed to help drug users as opposed to punish them needs to go away to teach them a lesson.

Therefore, when the government declares opiates as a public health crisis, it’s not actually about helping any of these people get better. It’s about declaring yourselves the morally righteous. It’s blended with an aspect of fighting crime and punishing users, because the last forty years have been spent stigmatizing and blanketing anyone who uses certain kinds of drugs as criminals who deserve punishment and confinement. It’s an easy publicity move to sell, because as long as our narrative is framed that way, it makes the government money, it selectively punishes minorities and poor people, it feeds the for-profit prison system, and a bunch of smug white people get to feel morally self-righteous for their drug of choice being Merlot.

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Marissa Explains it All #42 – My Love… The One I Married, Anyway

This is an essay that will be published in my fifth book, Passing Cars. But due to people wanting to know the story of how Aiden and I got together, on the five-year anniversary of the day we met, I thought I’d share it here as well. Enjoy!

 

I make no secret of the fact that my husband and I are both polyamorous. If you think that’s had some impact on our relationship or passion for each other though, you haven’t been around us at all. As I sit right next to him as I write this, on the day that five years ago, we happened upon meeting each other, it’s hard to believe we’ve come this far in a relatively short amount of time. I’ve written and been very vocal about our relationship, marriage, and how much he means to me, and while I told the story of our wedding itself in The PC Lie, the story of how we met is quite the event itself.

In October of 2012, my sister was getting married. Not my blood sister, but someone I’d called a sister for a good portion of my life. The joke was that we were separated at birth; something her birth mother would later claim she had no memory of, but we were as close as siblings would be, and her family treated me as such. Our group were among the only people traveling to North Carolina for her wedding, and since I wasn’t out yet, that wasn’t nearly as dangerous of an objective as it would be now.

Details about my date that evening aside, we were wandering back to our room to catch part of the Ohio State game when her grandmother pulled me aside. I suppose for clarity’s sake, I should specify that Becky was adopted, but her birth mother went on to have two more kids. Her birth grandmother was the one who recognized me from Facebook, where I’d often be the big sister to Becky and jokingly tell her husband why not to say certain things. In retrospect, there were a lot of behaviors in place that were very indicative of my true self, even if I didn’t connect the dots at the time.

Standing next to her grandmother was this cute, adorable person who I would later come to know as Aiden. It was only in passing, but we connected on Facebook under his deadname, and didn’t really say much until a year later. For my YouTube show at the time, we were filming a game of Cards Against Humanity and were looking to get several different personalities to join us for the event. Our conversation on Facebook began about our mutual love for the Nostalgia Critic, but ended up being an invite to come join us. My partner at the time, the same one who went to the wedding with me, fell asleep and left the game early, and the moment everyone remembers from that night was him picking a random winner over a set of two cards that I had strategically and logically placed for a perfect combination. Stupid pennywhistle solo…

We became closer over the ensuing few months, despite our seven-year age difference. That never came into play, except with his mother worrying about him being out with someone older at times. But we were both partnered at the time and laughed at the worrisome manner in which people treated our friendship. Well, I guess we weren’t really fooling anyone.

We both broke up with our respective partners in April of 2014. Mine involved being broken up with via email after a two-year relationship and a dishonest move from our house, and his involved… realizing I was available, I imagine. I only partially claim a joke in that regard. The first night that we ended up spending together involved Bailey’s and a lot of repressed feelings coming forth. We ended up sleeping until 4PM the next day, with both of us awkwardly trying to make sense of everything.

Being that I’d just had my heart broken (again, but that’s a story for another time), I wasn’t in any hurry to rush into things. He stuck with me regardless of my best attempt to pretend our feelings weren’t as strong and mutual as they were, but the more time we spent together, the more I fell in love with his heart. The age difference was never a factor. He was there for me regardless of my mood or what was going on, and the more he was, the more I wanted him there in the difficult moments.

That summer, before certain events transpired that delayed everything, he saw me as my true self for the first time. We had a weekly theme for our game nights at my place, and he’d picked a drag night. Subtle, I know. I saw this as the opportunity to officially come out to the entire group, and it’s quite obvious in the picture we got together that he was smitten.

I’d built up a protective layer of callous until that point, but I realized when I was out as Marissa, not only was I completely vulnerable, but I felt everything that much stronger; including how I felt about him. I felt alive, motivated, and like I wanted to kick the closet door down and be out as his girlfriend (we called it a lesbian thing at the time because he wasn’t out yet at that point.)

He came out to me about six months later, in the most off-handed and awkward manner possible. Again during a game of Cards Against Humanity, he mentioned to the people we were playing with that he was trans, and my surprise at the moment wasn’t that he was, but that was the way he chose to tell me. Despite not being attracted to men, it took me about a day to adjust my thinking in regard to him because I’d fallen in love with his heart first, and that didn’t change no matter what gender he was. If anything, we were more connected and open with each other this way than we ever had been. He started taking on some of the more “traditional” male roles, but our relationship as equals only changed in what we called each other and the petnames that resulted from that sweetness that gives others the diabeetus.

He also proposed via text message after a long night at a con, so it was only fitting that everything that transpired in our relationship was surprising and awkward. Especially since we both are anyway. I wrote about our wedding in The PC Lie, so I won’t cover that again, but if anything has strengthened as much as my resolve for justice and equality, it’s my love for him.

The pinnacle of this was at the 100th episode of Inciting Incident, which was held in the same place we got married about five weeks short of a year to the day that we got married. We’d gotten married under our dead names, because we weren’t out to some of our family yet, but most of the people there knew. Nonetheless, a wrong needed to be righted. After planning it with the theater rep, who was by no coincidence the same person who ministered our wedding, I had a shotgun wedding renewal in front of our closest friends and contemporaries, hitting everyone right in the feels in between Rissy being so nervous about the show that she drank while forgetting to eat. I think that was the most memorable part of the show for everyone.

The best part of the story is that I grew up calling Becky my sister, almost hyperbolically and the way that close friends feel like siblings in their relationships. However, once I married her younger brother, suffice it to say that she became my legal sister-in-law, so there’s a real sense of irony and foreshadowing retrospectively. Sometimes life has a way of working out in ways you’d never expect, despite the evidence and planted seeds being right in front of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marissa Explains it All #41 – “Why Didn’t You Just…”

TW: Sexual assault

I was sexually assaulted in the summer of 2014. Twice.

Once was by a guy who gave me a roofied drink. Once was by a woman who didn’t listen to me say the word “no” repeatedly.

Since that time, I have read countless stories, talked to countless people, and seen countless events unfold where people have been assaulted, threatened, abused, and worse. There’s one thing that they all seem to have in common, more or less: Someone saying “Why didn’t you just X?”

Maybe X is “Why didn’t you just leave if he was abusing you?” or “Why didn’t you just call the police if you were assaulted?” Regardless of what X is, it’s indicative of a first reaction that a good percentage of people seem to have when listening to someone else’s story. The instinct to find out what they could’ve done differently, or what they did wrong, or what they didn’t do in time, or how they didn’t handle it. “Why didn’t you just X” is the epitome of victim-blaming. At least as much as “we live in such a victim culture” is a kiss-off to those who have suffered assault or abuse.

The shift of blame making it to the person who violated consent or harmed another person is hard to traverse. Whether it’s the school not knowing what to do or a friend not knowing how to help, their actions are almost secondary in the eyes of many. “It couldn’t have been that bad if you stayed” or “maybe you said yes but just regretted it afterward.”

I don’t think it’s a lack of empathy. I think it’s symptomatic of a system that has been put in place to not deal with people getting away with shit. It protects those who are just being young or throwing a ball or not wanting their lives to be ruined forever by removing the consent from another person and taking something that isn’t theirs. Why these systems are in place, I’m not sure, but they’re there.

Any post you encounter on Facebook of someone talking about these things will not only be met with these victim-blaming questions, but will also have comparative questions of their agency. “They don’t live in the Middle East, so it can’t be that bad.” “They survived, so it can’t be that bad.” There’s always an excuse for why it happened. There’s always an excuse for why it could’ve been worse.

Meanwhile, a person is having a panic attack when they see their attacker every single day, and the campus police are too busy asking what they wore. There’s bureaucratic nightmares lying between the victim and justice of any kind. There are untested rape kits, hidden stories, avoiding of bad PR, and Gaslighting Central from abusers who either don’t know they’re abusers or want to keep getting away with it.

So many people want to blame the person who was assaulted. So many people want to blame the person who was abused.

I don’t know what to do about this. No matter how many speak out about their stories, there are shitty people looking to make it the fault of the person who received this treatment, rather than confront a culture that protects and welcomes these behaviors, or at least excuses them with anything from “that’s how it happens in romantic movies” to “boys just being boys.”

I didn’t go to the cops when I was raped for multiple reasons. I’m a trans person, so they’d likely think it was my fault for existing, that me being open and public was an invitation to such behavior, since some people link us being trans with some kind of sexual fetish or perversion. A woman did it, and enough people think that in and of itself is impossible. And, because I spent so much time, even to this day, asking the very questions that so many people throw on the abused and the victimized, still blaming myself on some level.

When people get abused or raped, because of how this society treats those who have been, it’s nearly impossible to not internalize these victim-blaming tendencies. “I could’ve done better.” “I should’ve seen it coming.” “I should’ve gotten out earlier.” “I should’ve trusted my instinct.” Because so many people are set against believing us or finding any way that it couldn’t have possibly been the perpetrator’s fault, at least entirely, we start to believe it ourselves.

When I was the recipient of repeated unwanted touching earlier this year, my first self-criticism wasn’t on how better to protect myself, but on how I didn’t say “no” assertively enough. On how I put myself in a position for that to happen. On how I should’ve known better.

In other words, victim-blaming is so common that I ended up doing it to myself.

If that isn’t indicative that we have a major problem when it comes to helping those who have suffered these situations, I don’t know what is. But I can tell you this: if someone comes to you and tells you that they’ve been abused, attacked, assaulted, or anything else…

Instead of asking what they were doing or how they could’ve stopped it or suggesting what they could’ve done differently, start by telling them that you believe them. Just knowing that someone in the world to whom they’ve trusted enough to admit these events believes you is a step that many people need in order to start coping with what happened in the first place.

One that happens all too seldom in the stories of many. I’ve even seen recently when women quote statistics of how many people are assaulted or have been abused, someone will inevitably respond “that seems a bit high.”

Yeah. It is. And the fact that your first reaction is disbelief does nothing but prove that further. Stop blaming people for what abusers, assaulters, rapists, and violators have done and start supporting those they’ve hurt rather than trying to find out what they could’ve done better to stop it in your eyes. If you’ve ever wondered why more people don’t speak up or step forward, your answer lies in those reactions.

Believe people when they tell you something’s happened to them. Start there, and then move forward with the rest.

Marissa Explains it All #40 – The Moment After – A Short Story/Recollection

This isn’t a blog, and yet it is. It’s an in-the-moment recollection of the worst night of my life.

TW: Graphic detail, sexual assault

The scent of damp bodily function wafted through the pitch dark room. Slow, heavy breaths scored the otherwise oppressive silence. The clenching fingers at war with the downy threads raging against each other, a single bead of sweat dropped down a glistening, furrowed brow. Breathing, unlike other instantly previous actions, was minimally consensual.

Nervous metatarsils gripped the cold, wooden panels forming the pathway of momentary escape. The racing thoughts conversed with the methodical, deliberate pace with which reprieve was gained. Solace found only in the hidden comfort of solitude, presence regained its autonomy after the ultimate yet temporary betrayal.

Being alone was figurative, as the violator remained immediately above the present state of the stripped. The past force exerted to gain physical superiority continued to press firmly into the crushed veins and nerves of exacerbated vulnerability. Muse’s cruel inspiration dripped through the ethereal blackness, much like the foreign wetness invading the chambers of once-held peace. In silence, there cannot be a calm that washes away those drops of unforgivable malice.

Eyes eventually close, parting bittersweetly with the shock-induced numbness before trauma truly sets in the system. A subconscious reprieve was the only savior from the uncaring hand of reality reinstating its monarchy over the peasant of cope. But, like all monarchs, long shall they live, cruel shall they reign.

But not tonight.

 

 

Marissa Explains it All #39 – Managing the Fire

I’ve never been good at resting.

At one point last year, I was suffering from pneumonia, and I still had the urge and instinct to get stuff done. My husband practically sat on my chest and ordered me to lay back down. That’s what it took to get me off my feet and not trying to do eight things at a time.

Maybe it’s because I had it drilled into my had that working hard, through pain, exhaustion, and frustration was the only way to be accepted, successful, and strong. A lot of it was unintentional I’m sure, but I felt growing up that anytime I needed a break or a day off that I was chastised for daring to think such things were acceptable.

Therefore, I find myself in the difficult position of desperately needing a break from the world being on fire, but every time I think I’m ready to cut things off for a while, this overwhelming sense of guilt takes over; shaming me for daring to even think of disengaging when silence can be interpreted as consent or compliance.

Speaking out does not come without its consequences, and as much fun as it can be, and as great as the reciprocation can be, it doesn’t come without its toll. For instance, being on the trans rights activism front, it’s only natural that I know other trans rights activists, and a lot of their posts often include the original source of someone saying something horrible about us. Yes, it is often followed by a refutation, but taking in yet another person who doesn’t think we’re people or valid or in charge of our identity is taken in nonetheless, and it gets fucking exhausting to have to justify your humanity to yourself, even when being shown an example of someone else already doing that part. I internalize everything, and it’s impossible for me to see the horrible thing consequence-free.

Combine that on the personal front with being hurt badly in successive days by people in my own life for anything from being dehumanized to shamed for needing some space, and it feels like the world is closing in on me. Like it’s a new age version of Mean World Syndrome,where instead of the media convincing me that everyone is going to get murdered, the people out there who find that action against us justified get their signals boosted constantly; and it seems unavoidable.

I needed to get away from it; that, and putting myself out there to only be called a thing or deadnamed or misgendered constantly, it wears on my already tired and weakened battery. Yet, those who march against all marginalized groups and kill people with their cars to prove it don’t sleep, and silence from white people can be seen as complicity. That line becomes grey and hard to spot, and the right thing to do can be lost between trying to be there and visible and running on fumes, but feeling exhausted, defeated, ineffective, and in desperate need of recharge. I can only see how a majority of people think of me and my community so many times before I need to not see it for a while.

But again, that guilt runs deep. That sense of feeling like resting or needing a break is giving up; it keeps the candles burning late and the car running past the E. It’s an internal vicious circle of horrible, self-defeating inner Monologues.

In the midst of feeling myself hitting another low, I took another self-imposed social media ban, barely a week after spending the weekend in Seattle with my partner the same way. Taking it a step further though, I deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone entirely, following in the footsteps of someone I dearly love, Eli Bosnick. Though not for the same reason, he’s someone else who puts himself out there boldly, and deals with the blowback as best he can. Yet, like the rest of us, remains human and can only deal with so much negativity and horrible hatred in human behavior.

Sometimes it’s just about learning that the fire doesn’t always need to be put out immediately, but left to be managed by allies who step up in your place. You know, like real allies who aren’t in it for the cookie.

Recording my own podcast tonight, I found myself breaking down at the end while discussing a somewhat traumatic recent event, and I had to ask my cohost if they could edit the show. I couldn’t even bring myself to deal with it on that level anymore. I needed escape from the world; into the arms of my husband, my partners, the innocent eyes of my kids who have no idea the kind of negativity from which I truly try to shield them… and yet, I can’t stop feeling like a failure for it. Nor can I stop feeling one when the next transphobic asshole thinks they’re being original with whatever apologetic they heard from someone else and thought it was brilliant.

I need to fight all I can, especially for those who aren’t in a position to do so, but I’m not in a good headspace at all. Things are getting to me, and even in writing this post with no intention of reading the comments, I’m stuck between keeping it to myself and fearing pointlessness. Or posting it and feeling pointlessness.

Maybe for a while, I need to let the other firefighters take a shift. I’ve been on the call for far too long. But if something is lost in the fire when I’m not there, I’ll never stop blaming myself.

So be it. I’m no good to anyone with a dead battery.

Marissa Explains It All #38 – Questioning

There was a bit of an altercation on a thread for one of my shows today, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around everything as best I can. Unfortunately, I’m left with more questions than answers, so I suppose this post will have me explaining my questions rather than divulging my usual way. Forgive the endless series of wonders that I’ll go through here, but I’m trying to reach for something tangible in all this.

On one of my podcasts, we spoke to a trans person who talked about having to go “undercover” as their assigned gender at birth while teaching in Zambia so as not to be put in jail for 14 years. A bad joke and a reference later, and I named the show after it, replacing part of a line from Toto’s “Africa” with our show catch phrase because… silly song, sarcastic reference, nothing bad intended.

On the thread for it this morning, it was called out for being racist, and I wanted to ask why. I wanted to understand how it was doing so. I’ve tried to do nothing but ask questions since, but I come up with more questions than answers, as I stated in the beginning.

Just as it’s not a cis person’s place to tell me when something is transphobic, it’s not my place to tell a POC whether something is or is not racist, which is why I asked if anything I did disparaged anyone. I was then explained the history of colonization and imperialism, about which I’m not familiar but again it’s not my place to question, and then the guest was reprimanded for “changing the topic” to LGBT oppression… on an LGBT show whose thread was an interview with someone who had to pretend they were someone they weren’t in order to help build schools in Zambia without going to jail.

I don’t understand how a reference to an admittedly problematic song reinforces racism, but I changed the name of the show because I don’t feel like I should tell someone it isn’t. But within the thread, it was stated more than once that all white people are racist, as they benefit from the systematic oppression of POC; the second part of which is of course demonstrably true.

I tried replacing some of the words to see if I could find something tangible to grab on to. As an Autistic person, sometimes I need to do that in order to process it, but I’m finding myself more lost the more I think about it. If we start with the idea that an entire group of people is automatically racist, where do we go from that? If we’re all grouped in with those who actively oppress, how do we work to improve that situation? I know we don’t rely on “I’m not racist, I do this,” but I always want to improve, be more educated, and try to be better than I was yesterday, and I don’t see a way to do that here.

I try to ask so that I can listen, because I don’t feel qualified to speak on these issues. You can be privileged in one area and not another, and that gives you a unique perspective on knowing when to speak and when not to. Where I don’t have cis or male privilege, I do have white privilege, and that’s important to recognize. When I’m asked about the murder rate of trans POC, I don’t feel qualified to speak on that topic because I don’t feel my voice is the one that needs to be platformed on that specific issue. I try to find others who speak from experience or better knowledge than I do.

I know the answer is to sometimes not speak at all, and I get that. When it comes to race issues, I don’t know that experience. I can definitely speak on trans issues though, and that’s what our show is specifically about. If the title was racist or evoked negativity in that way, I felt obligated to change it, whether or not I understood it. Again, not my place to decide.

But what do I do from here? I don’t want to be racist. I try my best not to do or say problematic things or support people who do, but where do I go from there. If we’re all automatically the same as the active oppressors, I don’t know where to go from that point, and I feel the need to distinguish between “I’m not racist, but…” and “I don’t want to be racist,” meaning if I am, I want to work toward not being so. I definitely want to be corrected, I definitely want to be educated, I definitely want to learn, but what do I do if there’s nothing to be done, or nothing I can do to escape it?

These are questions I don’t feel qualified to answer, and I hope I’m not being problematic in doing so. On one hand, I feel like if I said that all cis people benefit from cis privilege and are therefore transphobes, that would be very problematic, and I wouldn’t say that beyond the intentionally-joking manner of “hecking the cis.” I also acknowledge that those are not the same situations, but I’m trying to grasp them somehow so I can understand, learn, acknowledge, and grow.

And even in writing this, I’ve further confused myself. I actively admit this is beyond my understanding, and if I get told to stay in my lane, then I should. But I don’t know what to do while I’m there either, and that’s where I find the most confusion of all.

Marissa Explains it All #37 – What to Expect When You’re Questioning

Being a visible and openly trans activist as I am, I get emails or messages a lot from people who might be starting to question their gender, or loved ones of the questioning. While I am certainly willing to take as much time as necessary to have those messages, Skype calls, etc., I feel like I should put out a list of some of the things I say in these conversations, especially because I know for everyone who reaches out, there are many more who are afraid to initiate the conversation, afraid that I won’t have time to listen, or any other reason. Therefore, I’m publishing this post for those who may not feel able to talk to me, publicly or privately, and may be in a position of having gender questions.

NOTE: These pieces of advice are based on my own experience, my experiences with other trans people, the numerous interviews conducted therein, and the books I’ve read of other trans people. This is by no means a tell-all, answer-all guide, and before you make any major decisions, you should talk to a trusted, LGBT-friendly doctor so that you’re well aware of the risks, side effects, and other baggage that may go with this decision. I’m not a professional (at that, anyway), and do not claim to be an expert. Only someone with a lot of experience.

1. No matter how open-minded or gender-blind you think you are, there are societal influences, toxic thoughts, and other pressures you need to sort out in your head.

Our willful participation in this culture is not as manageable as your Facebook feed; meaning, you can’t always filter out what you don’t like or want. Culture, on a basic level, is learned behavior, and we don’t always choose what we learn on a subconscious level. You may have harmful perceptions of gender, relations, and how one should or does act that may detract from your experience. When you’re first starting to question your gender, a lot of those things are going to come up, possibly as reasons why you shouldn’t transition:

-I don’t want to be called by male/female/neutral pronouns because no one will ever respect that anyway.

-I don’t want to admit to myself that I’m trans because I see how the community is treated in certain parts of society.

-I don’t think I could ever go through with surgeries or HRT.

-I feel like there may not be a point in coming out or transitioning.

All of these are valid, and yet they’re sometimes defense mechanisms we’ve created to talk ourselves out of taking that leap. Make no mistake about it; these questions are difficult, deeply embedded in your consciousness, and may bring about thoughts and memories you wish they didn’t. However, once you get past all the reasons you think it’ll never work; Once you can sort all those in another folder, that is when you can truly start asking yourself the most important questions.

-Why am I questioning my gender?

-What does gender mean to me?

-How do I really feel?

-Who do I really think I am?

-Does it truly matter what anyone else thinks of it?

Once you can get to those without talking yourself out of even thinking about it, then you can truly start to learn who you are.

2. Your answers may change.

Coming out/being trans isn’t always as easy as “I always knew.” As much as some stories would like to have you think that, exploring and discovering your gender identity is a deep, long, and difficult experience, and the answer may change. I for one talked myself out of coming out numerous times, got scared and went back into the closet, then talked myself out of HRT, then talked myself out of surgery, and the list goes on. If you don’t feel like you can or want to go on hormones, you don’t have to to be valid. If you don’t feel like you could ever go through with surgery, fine! You don’t have to go through any procedure to be valid in who you are. Don’t let the outside world move the goalposts on you, because they will every chance they get. Maybe you’ll start in non-binary identities and move through them to the other side. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll go with it for a while and then “de-transition.” Maybe a non-binary identity is where your heart truly lies. And maybe that answer will change over time too! It doesn’t matter. This is your journey, and nobody can take that away from you. Nobody has more of a right to your identity than you do, despite what the anti-trans commentators would have you believe.

3. Don’t let concerns over being able to “pass” talk you out of embracing your identity.

Remember what I said about moving the goalposts. Some people will tell you the only way you can be valid in your trans-identity is by “passing” according to cisgender standards. Those who can stealth or not be visibly trans, that’s what some would like us to believe is the only valid way. You don’t owe anyone in this society, including yourself, blending in by cis standards. Your journey isn’t about them or living up to how they feel you should be adequately trans. Despite what some insecure people may think, our lives are not devoted to blending in to trick people into accidentally being attracted to trans people.

4. Give yourself time, distance, and recovery.

Being online and trans sucks sometimes.

By that, I mean if you’re like me, not a day goes by where someone in your Facebook feed, or one of their friends, doesn’t have something shitty to say about trans people. Even the proudest among us, it gets to us after a while. Allow yourself time away. Allow yourself space to recover. Take time away from those toxic arguments. You’re not obligated to speak up if you don’t want to, and you don’t have to chime in on every douchebag who says an inappropriate thing. Trust me, that urge is there, and gets magnified if you get into activism. Be proud, be as loud as you feel safe being, but don’t feel like you have to rebut every terrible argument. None of us have the time for that. Right now, I’m on a self-imposed Facebook ban until I get back home from a weekend getaway. I imposed this ban on myself because getting into too many arguments and/or constantly trying to validate or justify my humanity and right to my identity finally caught up with me. And if you’ve listened to any of my shows, you know I yell a lot. Give yourself that time away; we all need time to recover, recharge, and distance ourselves from the toxic opinions of those who may never understand us.

5. You don’t owe cis people anything.

This is the main reason I’ve been on hiatus: Defending this ideal. Whether it’s people who think we owe them our trans status immediately, or those who feel entitled to answered questions at any time, no matter how invasive they are, you don’t owe anybody anything. Nobody is entitled to your time. Nobody is entitled to your body. Nobody has the right to demand something from you that you’re not ready to give them.

6. You’re not obligated to fit someone else’s standards of masculinity/femininity/etc.

When my husband got deeper into his transition, he started wearing makeup and short shorts again. At a point, he was afraid to, because he felt he had to live up to some standard of masculinity that he’d felt influenced by. Dispel yourself of that toxic bullshit as quickly as possible. You can be a trans woman and wear jeans and a t-shirt. You can be a trans man and wear makeup and like cute things. You can be non-binary and still associate with things you liked before you came out. Let yourself like things because you like them, not because you think you should.

7. You will hear every stupid argument, no matter how long you’re out and no matter how much you try to avoid them.

Here, I’ll knock a few out right now… Not disclosing trans status is dishonest. Trans is a fad. Trans was made up by Tumblr in 2009. There are only two genders. You can’t change gender. Chromosomes. DNA. Science. You’re still x no matter what. You’re a distraction. You’re sick. You need help. Trans is a mental illness. Trans people have magic, gender-bending mindpowers because they’re sorcerers whose mission in life is to spread the trans and play volleyball in the face of mocking god.

Okay, maybe that last one is true. The rest are absolute bullshit mostly perpetuated by people who aren’t trans, don’t know anyone who is trans, don’t know the first thing about being trans or HRT or anything else, or do have some of those things and still perpetuate harm to others. Fuck them.

I say this often: I’m openly trans because I want to be, not because I feel obligated to be so in order to make others more comfortable. I was transitioning five months before I came out publicly. It’s none of their business. This journey is about you. Figure out who you are, figure out what you want, and find your own identity. You don’t have to accept what others tell you that you are. You don’t have to accept the naysaying in the back of your mind that tells you you’ll never be valid/accepted/passing/trans-enough/etc. Make this journey because you want to. Make this discovery because you want to. Be who you are because you want to… Not because others feel entitled to that information or your answers to their questions.

I regret nothing about who I am. I only wish I’d had access to the information I did much earlier in life. I would’ve transitioned over a decade ago if I’d known that was an option. Be sure to talk to people you trust. Don’t risk your life, house, job, or safety over it if you can help it. Read or listen to things that other trans people have said. Those who put it out there, myself included, partially do so in order to try to help make it easier on trans people coming out after we do. Trans stories are as varied as trans people themselves, and I hope your story gives you the happy answers and experiences that my journey has for me. You deserve happiness, respect, and the freedom to be who you are, and don’t ever let anyone, including yourself, convince you otherwise.

And, of course, reach out if you feel like you need to. I’m on Facebook (except this weekend) at Marissa Alexa McCool, Twitter @RisMcCool, Instagram @littlegirlrissy, Snapchat @rissymonster, or you can email me at rismcwriting@gmail.com. I always try to answer as many and as quickly as possible, and there are plenty of other openly trans people who are willing to answer your questions when they can. Don’t be afraid to find out who you are because of what you’re worried may happen. Find out. It’s worth it. Even with all the pain, negative things, and societal attachments that come with being openly trans, I don’t regret a thing. I just need time to take care of myself sometimes.

Don’t we all?