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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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?