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.
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. ❤