What Are You Looking At?

Imagine you are a teenager going through puberty, and trying to find out what it means to be a woman. Only you’re on stage, and everybody is watching.

That’s what transitioning in public feels like. Only for a teenager this behavior is expected. Young women learning to be young women are allowed to make mistakes, and experiment with their identities. Trans women aren’t allowed that space. With hormone replacement therapy, a trans woman essentially is going through puberty again, and that comes with all the emotions that go with that. Add learning how to do all those things that a girl growing up would learn – makeup, body language, etc. Add the lessons on socializing with other women. Plus unlearning all the masculine socialization, and trying to compensate for all the effects of the first round of puberty.

Transitioning is essentially being a teenager as an adult, with all the adult bills and responsibilities. With the added transphobia and threat of harassment and violence, and the strange looks, and the decisions on which bathroom is safe to use without fear, and the financial security needed to actually transition mixed with the fear of losing your job when you come out at work. And so many other things.

Firsts as a trans women are exciting, but also terrifying. The first time I wore makeup in public I checked a mirror every ten minutes to make sure I didn’t turn into a panda. But I promised myself I wouldn’t lose progress, no matter what. So I kept wearing makeup. And now I feel more comfortable wearing it than not. The first (and only, to date) time I wore a skirt in public I knew I would be laughed at. And I was, though thankfully not blatantly. It won’t stop me from doing it again, but it does hurt. It hurts like hell to be a freak. A man in a dress. The one parents won’t let their kids talk to or about.

When cashiers won’t look at you as they ring your purchases, that hurts. When people check your ID and do a double take, and you can see their opinion of you change in a split second, that hurts. When people stare at you when you walk into the men’s room at work, that hurts, too. But everything worth having comes with a price.

Transition is being in the middle of a socially-defined binary system, and when you don’t fit either pole, you don’t fit anywhere. The men don’t accept you. The women aren’t comfortable treating you like a woman. And people love to give you unsolicited advice about how to live your life.

About a month ago a family friend took the initiative to tell me that he was upset because I was too smart to work the job I have now, and that I shouldn’t be scared of society. That I am scared to leave because I am comfortable and accepted. He kept using terms like “if you ever complete this…transition…” All the while he used male pronouns and my birth name in between telling me how much he felt like he knew me. To a point he was right. But mostly he was totally wrong. I don’t want to work there forever. But I want to do things on my time. I was too close to tears to tell him that the reason I wasn’t interviewing is because even if I did pass, which I don’t yet most of the time, my documents don’t match, and the chances of me getting another job with fully disclosed trans status is slim at best. That i would have to interview as a man for a decent chance, and how I can’t ever go back to that. I didn’t get to tell him my plans to transition somewhere where I could do it fairly comfortably and with job security. Or the statistical reasons to stay where I’m comfortable right now because of the rates of violence and murder against trans women.

Instead I nodded, stayed quiet, and tried to hold back tears until I got back to my car. I was embarrassed, sad, and ashamed that I didn’t stand up for my interests. And I was angry that someone without the facts tried to decide how I should live my life.

But that’s what transitioning in public is. Everyone is watching and judging as you figure out how to be you. And sometimes you’re so focused on doing what you need to do for your own well being, that the extra push from the outside world is just a little bit unbearable. Tell them the truth, but don’t tell them what to do with that truth. If you have any trans friends, stick up for them. Defend their choices, and their pronouns, because sometimes we can’t muster the courage to defend our own. It will be appreciated.

Sometimes just getting up to fight another round is the best thing you can do.

As always, keep doing your best to fight like a grrrl.

-Natalie

Update: As of today, I am out at my full time day job. The name stuff is still iffy, as I’m sure people are still getting used to it, but a couple people have gone out of their way to pledge their support. I’m hopeful that in time people will accept the name, and start using the correct pronouns, as well, in due time. ❤

He Said, She Said

Q: what do you call a transgirl in the process of transition?

A: her name
Pronouns – it’s a topic that has been bothering me for some time now. They’re the little things that most people don’t even notice, but if you want to make or break a trans person’s day, pronouns are a good way to do it. Language has power, and misgendering a trans person only takes one word.

My name is important to me. I write it on everything like a preteen girl. It’s an unmistakable way for me to assert my gender and my identity. And Natalie is by no means a neutral gender name.

Imagine you start a new job and nobody can get your name right. You’re Leonardo, but everyone keeps calling you Jeff. You keep telling them you’re Leonardo, but they insist that you are Jeff because it’s easier for them to remember. Misgendering is kinda like that, only so much worse. By calling me a he because that’s what the majority of my biological characteristics say right now, even though I’m clearly presenting as a female, you are undermining my identity and telling me who I am is not valid to you. Sometimes it’s by accident, and that’s okay. Apologize, correct, and move on.

Purposeful misusage of pronouns isn’t so simple though. What do you do when someone uses the wrong pronouns? You can ignore it or you can correct. But what if it’s at work? If you’re out, you can still correct, but that doesn’t mean people will respect that if the name change isn’t legal yet. But I, for example, am not out at either of my jobs. I suspect people at both have suspicions, but I’ve yet to confirm. And so they call me he, and my birth name, and all I can do is smile and pretend it doesn’t bother me. And I can’t blame them, because to be fair, I never told then my name or pronouns. My part time job at night has a name tag policy, too, so even if I get gendered correctly by customers, it’s “fixed” once a customer sees that male name hanging off my chest.. I do my best to “forget” to wear it, but my boss is big on reminding me. And making me move it so it’s clearly visible. Sometimes I’m outed by my coworkers, as well. I’ll be helping a customer who is ma’aming me, and they’ll name drop. Now I’m a man again, and everyone is embarrassed. Rock and a hard place, as they say.

But outside of work it’s a whole different story. My biggest pronoun issue is with my mother. She has known I’m trans for almost a year now, but still refuses to use my pronouns or name. I noticed she tries to avoid using names at all, but when she uses one, it’s the one she gave me. And he, him, and son are pretty common things I hear from her. Despite the declaration of support (which seems to be more of an “I’ll leave you alone and pretend this isn’t really happening” kind of support mostly), not once have I heard she, her, or Natalie come from her. And it drives me crazy.

But what do I do? I’m terrible at confrontation. When I have to stand up for myself, I freeze. The idea of telling her gives me butterflies. How do I tell the woman who birthed me that I hate the name she chose, and not feel bad about it? I still don’t know what to do about that.

And sometimes it comes down to just not feeling valid enough to insist on the proper pronouns. Not feeling like a “real” woman because I haven’t been on hormones long enough for my face to shift to the feminine side, and my breasts are still too small to notice. Or because my voice might not be the best, and is still downright male sometimes. Or a million other things about my body society says is male. Those old lies burrowed deep. If it looks like a man, and talks like a man…

But on the flipside, when pronouns are right, they are so right. About a month ago my amazing girlfriend was looking at something with my old name on it, and for a second, it threw her off. She almost asked who it was. And that made me feel amazing. To be validated by someone who I respect so much made me so happy.

Or when an old high school friend asked if I wanted him to change my name in his contact list on his phone the day after I came out.

Or those rare occasions when I get miss’d in public by someone who doesn’t know me, and sees me the way I hope to be seen. (Most often young children, I noticed.)

The point is, Never forget language has power. Three letters, one syllable, can change the course of a day, can provoke tears. Or a huge smile. Language shapes culture and perception.

And if you think pronouns are complicated, well, that’s just a basic trans 101 issue that almost everyone transitioning has to deal with.

So until next time, use proper pronouns, defend your trans friends pronouns (because maybe they can’t), and keep fighting like a grrrl.

-Natalie

Losing Friends and Gaining Allies

One of the scariest parts of being transgender is coming out. You just never know how people will react. There’s an unofficial guideline in the trans community that says that if you decide to transition, you will lose someone along the way. Some people lose everyone. I got off easy.

I came out in stages. I started dropping hints, as many do, before i actually told anybody. I would post articles on Facebook and comment on trans issues, and try to gauge reactions. I had already started growing my hair out, and I shaved off the beard I had had literally since I could grow one. And then, around the first of December, 2013, I slaved over a letter trying to explain who I was and what that meant. I gave it to a select few who I thought would be receptive, and tried to build a support network. I sent the letters off, and waited, feeling like the character in the movie Office Space after he slipped the confession of embezzlement under his boss’s door and instantly regretted it. I didn’t sleep much that night.

And the responses came, all support.

But two notable exceptions bothered me. My mother asked several times if I was gay. My brother told me I could do whatever made me happy, but he wouldn’t use my name. And then asked what I was “going to do with my junk.” Two no-no’s when conversing with a trans person. Or any person, really.

But I was officially starting to transition. I put my hair in pigtails, bought skinny jeans from the women’s department, and put pink laces on my shoes.

Over 6 months later I came out officially on Facebook and changed my name. Support came from everywhere. I lost one friend under the guise of god’s plans. Good riddance. As time went on, another good friend slowly started talking to me less and less. That one hurt a little more. But before I started, I decided that anyone who didn’t accept me could remove themselves from my life. Transition is hard enough without that drama.

But I also gained an unlikely ally. A girl who I treated badly in high school (who deserved absolutely none of the stress I put on her) became my biggest online ally. And for that I am deeply grateful.

I’m still not totally out. I’m still weighing the pros and cons of coming out at work, and deciding when and if I should at all (though I’m pretty sure they have their suspicions). My extended family also doesn’t know, and I am worried about that. Somehow I don’t think showing up to Thanksgiving dinner in a dress would be appropriate. But that hurdle comes later.

I don’t dress fully feminine either yet. Skinny jeans and hoodies make me look more androgynous than feminine, but I’ll talk more about my presentation and transitioning in the public eye in a later post.

Transition is hard, but supportive people make it easier. So until next time, thanks for helping me keep fighting like a grrrl.

– Natalie

Who am I, and what am I doing here?

Who am I, and what am I doing here? Those are a couple of the questions I ask myself regularly. Once upon a time, I was living my life as a man, until one day I realized that if I ever wanted to be content, I also had to be honest. I had to be the woman I was meant to be. But it took me a long time to come to terms with that, and a longer time to decide to do something about it.

“Transgender” was a word I was afraid to attach to myself for a very long time. It comes with connotations of men wearing dresses and Jerry Springer episodes, but I didn’t feel like a man wearing a dress the first time I locked my door, drew my shades, and tried one on. I felt more beautiful that I ever had before. I felt like I could be who I wanted to be. But gender isn’t just about clothing. Gender is hard to pin down, and that causes some of the widespread confusion, no doubt. I still fight with society’s concept of what a trans woman is sometimes. Mainstream media pounds it into our heads that being transgender is wrong, and breaking that misconception is hard. So hard. So hard that transgender suicides and suicide attempts are way up around 40%. Think about that for a minute. 40%. 4 out of every 10 trans people kill themselves, or have tried at some point.

But I’m learning to embrace that word. To make it my own. I can’t change who I am, but I can try my best to be positive about it. Those negative thoughts still creep in sometimes. Society still manages to shoehorn in their ideas that what I am is an abomination, and every now and then, for a second, just for a second, I believe it. So I’m here to fight back. I’m here to add my voice to the ever growing movement that isn’t afraid to stand up and say that there isn’t anything wrong with being transgender, but that there is something seriously wrong with the way transgender people are treated by media, religion, lawmakers, and sometimes even their own family and friends. To help other transgender people get over that little voice in their head that tells them this is wrong, and to tell everyone else who tries to push that idea that we don’t want the garbage they’re selling.

My name is Natalie. I am a 25 year old transgirl in the process of transition, and I am here to fight like a grrrl.