Sunday, November 20, 2011

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2010

[This essay was originally written for the 2010 Transgender Day of Remembrance. I'm reposting it here because I think it still does a pretty good job of reflecting how I feel.]

There's a moment, right before I give myself my hormone shot, when I pause. Certainly, it's not the only time. Even after going full-time, I still have to convince myself before leaving home that I cannot hide forever. That I need to be myself regardless of the risk. But it's that point of impact, when the needle pierces my thigh and evokes that jolt of pain as I push the estrogen into my body, that I'm truly afraid of. Even though I know, from doing it so many times before, that the actual injection won't be that bad, I have to stop and stare and steel myself for that moment when it all becomes real. When I affirm, yet again, that I'm continuing this fool's errand of taking nature into my own hands. I pause. And I remind myself why I'm doing it, why I want real breasts and soft skin and blessed, resonant, so-right femininity. I remind myself how good “Juliet” feels. I remind myself that this is part of the price to feel true to myself. This is what it takes to feel female. And I plunge it in.

That's what I've written in my graduate school personal statements, anyway. And it's certainly true, in a sense. For me, and many others here I suspect, transitioning is not only hormone shots and building up the nerve to leave the house. No, the hardest part, for me, has been and continues to be persistent questions of identity, of logic vs. intuition, of body vs. mind, of theory vs. reality. Questions that, even now, I struggle with.

Of course, for other transgender people, there are different questions with different answers. Some transgender people feel they were always the right gender, it was just that their bodies were wrong. Some feel that they don't need to transition from one sex to another, that intermittent crossing is right for them. And some others eschew gender entirely, paving out their own identities outside labels or convention. While we share in common discomfort for our birth gender, our negotiations of that discomfort vary as much as we do individually.

This may sound like common sense to many. Of course individuals experience things in different ways. But in the one narrative allotted us, the coming-out story, we're allowed no such nuance. Almost invariably, or so the story goes, a person assigned male at birth spends years wrestling with himself, feeling like “a woman trapped in a man's body,” until he finally gets his penis chopped off and everything's all better. Because there are no pre-ops. There are no transsexual men. There are no closeted transsexuals. There are no post-ops but still struggling transsexual people. There are no “third genders.” There are no transgendered people of color. There are no people who never felt comfortable in their birth-assigned gender, but never felt like the other gender inside either. There are drag-queens, “she-male” prostitutes and porn actresses, and white, middle-aged women trapped in men's bodies. And even those groups, who I do not mean to slight at all, are not allowed to be people: siblings, parents, coworkers, friends, neighbors. They're jokes, freaks, or murder victims.

Of course, we, here, know that's not true. Or at least, we do now. But because of this invisibility, because of the reductive nature in which we are dealt, those who have not come out, those who have not found a trans-community, those who have not known what is possible, those whose feelings do not match the “narratives,” they do not know that their feelings are ok, that their desires are ok Those people and so many more can feel so alone. So very alone. I certainly did. And in a condition where self-hate is practically a prerequisite, that's a recipe for tragedy.
I tried to be sympathetic about the recent outcry over gay bullying and teen suicides. No one deserves to be made to feel bad about themselves and any efforts to mitigate that harm are good. But, yet again, the “T” on LGBTQIA was largely absent. Even though a recent survey estimated that over 40% of transsexual people have attempted suicide, even though that doesn't include the many who have succeeded, even though that doesn’t include the many closeted and unknown transsexuals who took that pain with them to the grave because their society gave them little other option, even despite all this we are told that “It Gets Better” –particularly for the mostly gay, white men who can afford it to.

For me, at least, it has. And thank God for it. After years of depression, of a suicide attempt and plans for many more, of hating myself and feeling that my body was not my own but purely a source of suffering I could never escape, I was able to come to terms with who I was and who I needed to be. The internet helped me see that the impossible was possible. Local transsexual people, some of whom are here tonight, helped me find the resources I needed and served as living examples I could aspire to. Allies, friends, and family supported me, some more than others, and accepted me as Juliet. And I am finding what it means to look at myself in the mirror and finally like what I see.

But I cannot fool myself. I've been lucky. Privileged, even. I am white. I am young. I am thin. I am able-bodied. I have liberal parents and mostly liberal friends. I have health insurance to cover many of my costs. I did not have to worry about losing a job or a relationship [although finding them may prove difficult]. I had access to free mental health counseling in college that allowed me to find a good therapist who was a supportive ally, who not only facilitated my self-discovery but supported me while I was transitioning. I have had transsexual individuals present and virtual who provided so many resources, so much hope. I have had all this and more. And even then, I'm still so often terrified. Even then, I have almost destroyed myself. Even then, I so often spiral into more despair. Even with all those advantages, it has been a difficult process with struggles left I can't even think to forsee. And I am one of the luckiest ones.

Indeed, today is not just about me. It’s not just about us. It’s about all transgender people, most of whom are not as fortunate as I have been. It’s especially the men and women we honor tonight, who have lost their lives due to hate, bigotry, intolerance. But also because even not-hateful mainstream media continues to make us invisible. Continues to see us only as inverted penises and elongated clitorises. Continues to not let us be seen as real, as human. But tonight, perhaps more than any night, we are not invisible. Tonight we remind our society that not only do we exist, but that our community suffers terrible losses, still, daily. Tonight, we are humans recognizing other humans who have had their humanity stripped from them.

We are visible. And it is a risk. It is a sacrifice. It is scary and intimidating and in the back of our minds we know that our names could just as easily show up on this list next year. But our visibility saves lives. Our insistence upon our humanity improves lives. Our refusal to be what others want us to be inspires others to do the same. It saved mine. The presence and help of others here now and that I’ll never meet have made my life so much better. And because I know how much it has meant to me, I hope I am strong enough to remain committed to doing the same. To being out. To embracing who I am. I certainly don’t blame anyone who isn’t; truly, I can only hope I can do it myself. Because I know I’m fortunate. Because I know I’m thankful. Because I know I’m needed.

I don’t experience a high when I give myself hormone shots; I don’t consider them magic liquid meant to “cure” me. And they hurt, a bit. It all hurts, a bit. Sometimes more than others, when I look in the mirror and only see Dylan’s hard and hairy face staring back. But I know that the impossible is possible. I see it before me today. And the shots, the fear, the risk, it’s worth it. Despite the difficulties, I have never felt better than I do now. I, of course, cannot speak for them, but I rather suspect the people we honor tonight would say the same thing. Thank you, everyone here who has personally helped me with this transition. Thank you, everyone who has sacrificed so much to make being ourselves possible. And thank you, everyone here tonight, for continuing to be seen, continuing to be real, and continuing to save lives [mine included]. Thank you.

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