Identity + Intersectionality / Transgender

“Last night was one of the worst in my life. I’d been wearing a binder for about a week or so off and on because I was having really bad dysphoria and dressing more masculinely is the only way to relieve it sometimes. I was in no way out to my parents that I was transgender and I didn’t want to be. They cornered me last night and wouldn’t leave until I came out and then tried to make me feel bad for doing so. What should I do now? I never wanted to come out.”

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Mal Blum Says:

First, I’m sorry this happened and especially that it happened like this. I don’t need to tell anyone that coming out to parents can be difficult to begin with, and should never be forced. On top of that, physical dysphoria can feel intensely personal and vulnerable (especially if you are still figuring out how it manifests in your body, and what eases it). To have it confronted and dragged into conversation like this and forcing you to explain yourself is truly awful.

This shouldn’t have happened and (this part is really important, if you don’t read any other part of this, please read this) it isn’t your fault, you didn’t do anything wrong and they are wrong right now.

I say this because I know that when you feel vulnerable about something like this, it can be easy to internalize the things the people around you (especially authority figures) say about it. If they confront you in an aggressive way, if they make you feel uncomfortable or ashamed, there may be a part of you that is thinking “this is my fault, I made this uncomfortable situation, if I wasn’t trans this wouldn’t be happening, etc. etc.” – Here is where I am going to say it again, and hope that you believe me: if they caused you to feel uncomfortable in this situation, they are wrong in this situation. You are not responsible for this happening and are not at fault. Okay? So if you don’t believe that little voice inside of your gut that is telling you it isn’t your fault, then you can believe me, a stranger on the internet. Okay, so now that we have that covered, there is that question of what to do now…

Without knowing more about your situation, it’s a matter of what you have access to now. First is finding support to lean on. Do you have a supportive friend who knows what’s going on? Do you have access to a trustworthy counselor or therapist, if your parents aren’t supportive in helping you access that, maybe through school? I know some might not, and the plight of sticking it out and cohabitating with your parents can seem dire – I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention as a resource for someone to talk to about what you’re going through that The Trevor Project has a free 24/7 line (866-488-7386) or 3-9pm E.T. online chat. You can also reach the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860.

Second, I want to encourage you to let yourself cope in whatever ways work for you. Is there anything that makes you feel better, or takes you out of your head, even if only marginally, even if only for a few minutes? Music, books, video games, memes, maybe this e-care package from Everyone Is Gay, whatever it is, I want to tell you that it’s okay. My opinion is as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, whatever you need to do to help yourself cope is okay.

Third, be as kind to yourself as you would be to somebody else going through the same thing (and there are other people going through this, if it helps, you are not alone). This is an important one. Try not to say mean things to yourself. Remember to be patient with yourself. Be a good friend to yourself. You deserve that.

This last bit is only for if you are anxious about the long term. I don’t know your parents, or your relationship with them. I do know that your relationship with your parents may grow and change. On my best days, I believe that people have a tremendous capacity for change. Part of my first “coming out” process involved an intervention-style “family meeting” where I was confronted, shamed and told awful things that I internalized, including the position that if I were “the gay kid” I would be responsible for my youngest sibling (my ally in the family) being bullied and assaulted on my account.

As an adult, I know that is wrong. It is not okay to put that responsibility on a child’s shoulders, it is not okay to aggressively confront your child about their gender or sexuality, or use derogatory language to get your point across. As a child, I think I knew that somewhere, but I didn’t totally believe it. I hope that you believe it.

I also don’t know if it helps, but I am close with my parents now. I kept them at arms length at times, and I did a lot of work once I was out of their house. I learned to assert boundaries, I learned to express myself and feel more valid in my opinions, thoughts, feelings and needs. I am still learning. That same sibling was really helpful in coming out to them about gender stuff over the last two years, and they have clearly grown a lot and I am glad to be close with them now. There were times I never could have imagined it 12 years ago, but a lot can change.

That said, if your parents are not the type to grow and change with you, if they are unwilling or unable, if they continue to be harmful or abusive, I don’t think you owe them anything, including a relationship.  Either way, you don’t have to figure it out today, all you have to do right now is focus on being kind and patient with yourself and surviving the best way you can.

Sending hugs, I hope you’re okay,
Mal

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"I’m a trans woman, and in the wake of the election I’m finding it hard to be hopeful. Any advice?"

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Mey Rude Says:

Hey, honestly, I’m in that same scary, hopeless boat as you. But, the good thing about that is that there are a lot of us here in this boat, and while all of us are afraid of sharks and storms and jellyfish and waves, we’re also all together, and that makes us stronger. And while you and I might be really scared of the water and all the things in it, a lot of the people in the boat are a lot braver than us. A lot of them also have skills we don’t have. Maybe they know how to spot changes in the weather or how to patch up holes in the bottom of the boat. Maybe they know how to fight off dangerous sea creatures. Maybe they even know how to spot land and how to get us there.

Now, I’ve probably strained that metaphor about as far as it will go, but I hope you understand what I’m getting at. You’re not alone, we’re not alone, and we never will be. We’ll always have each other. A lot of trans women, and trans people of all kinds, are going to be banding together more now than we have in decades, because, honestly, the danger that faces us is greater than is has been since the days of Reagan and the AIDS crisis. Let me tell you something, though, when we come together, we are powerful as heck. We started the Stonewall Riots, that means the LGBTQ movement as we know it is because of us. We changed the way people look at gender and fashion and language. Shade, werk, yaas, read, all of that was us (and when I say “us” I mean specifically Black and Latina trans women in this case). Culture would not be the same without us. We are revolutionary, radical and resilient.

What’s more than that – and this is really good news – is that we have all of our allies. We have the people who love us and are willing to sacrifice in order to protect us. We have people who are fighting tooth and nail for us, and they’re not going to let this ship go down no matter what (there I am with that metaphor again). They’re already donating their time and effort and money to places like the Trans Lifeline, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the Transgender Law Center in order to help us out. They’re already helping us to change our names and our documents, they’re offering us shelter in case we lose our homes, they’re offering us love and community and protection.

Also, to be completely honest, maybe my words won’t give you hope. I understand that. I’ve had a lot of hopeless days since the election. But even when I’m feeling hopeless I’m going to keep fighting until I get that hope back, and so are a lot of other people. And if you can’t have hope right now, that’s okay, the rest of us will hope for you. Soon enough of us will be fighting (whether we have hope or not) that we’ll make things better and it will be easier to be hopeful. This is something I believe with all my heart and know with all my soul.

Until then, though, it’s not going to be easy. I don’t want to give you unrealistic expectations for the next four or eight years. But I’m fine giving you hope, because no matter how small hope is, it isn’t unrealistic. It can’t be. It’s hope, and hope is literally magic. I told you I was done with the metaphors and I am. When I say that it’s magic I mean very literally that hope makes things that should be impossible possible. It changes lives and it changes the world. And so while it seems like these next four years are going to be impossible, as long as we have each other, as long as we have our allies and as long as at least some of us have hope, we’re going to keep on fighting and keep on moving forward.

If you’re feeling hopeless enough that you want to hurt yourself, please reach out to someone. You can call the Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860 in the US or (877) 330-6366 in Canada, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or the general National Suicide Prevention Hotline for the US at 1-800-273-8255. The Trevor Project also has text and chat lines.

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“I’ve often found myself asking this question and recently Troye Sivan tweeted about it so I felt like I should ask you guys: If gender is a social construct, then what does being trans actually mean? If one of the goals of fighting cis-sexism is ending gender as we know it (as an imaginary thing), then how can this coexist with transgenderism?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Liam Lowery Says:

First, a disclosure: I have thought about your question every spare moment I have had for over a month. It is a good question, one that people (particularly people who have been aware/accepting of trans identities for a while) ask me pretty often, so I want to answer it as thoroughly as possible.

If gender is a social construct, then what does being trans actually mean?

Gender is a social construct. This is a phrase that anyone who’s taken a gender studies class (or looked at the Feminist Ryan Gosling meme) in recent years could parrot back to you. At the same time, trans and gender-nonconforming people have recently become visible in ways we were not before, pushing for equal or sometimes trans-specific rights and resources. When considered together, this presents an obvious question: If gender is constructed, then how can trans be a “real” identity?

Well, there’s a catch. This question assumes that social constructs can’t have deep-reaching effects on the ones who, within the construct, are perceived as “less than” or “other.” Social constructs, more than anything else, govern the way that systems cause violence to marginalized groups. Calling something a social construct doesn’t eliminate its power, or meaningfully address the harms people in the out-group experience.

I don’t feel like gender is only a social construct when I am treated differently because of my gender identity, like when a supervisor advises me to talk less about trans issues to benefit my career, or when a colleague asks me to “explain” Caitlyn Jenner (statements made by well-meaning people who are, for all intents and purposes, allies). Gender itself may be a social construct, but the gender binary has very real consequences—for trans individuals and for cis-women, too. In the patriarchal world we live in, male assigned and identified people experience privilege that female-identified people do not. Transgender people, though, typically experience being outside of and unrecognizable to this gender system—even when we are read as cisgender, we are still subject to harms based on our trans status at any point when we come out or are outed.

But being trans also means digging deep inside yourself and discovering riches beyond telling. It means that, while people may have told you that you were crazy, that this would alienate you from your family, or that you would get yourself killed, you knew yourself, and chose to live as yourself. Being trans means moments of clarity, spiritual awakening, joy, and self-discovery, all in the face of deeply ingrained opposition. It means you led your own uprising, and are now the sovereign of your own nation-state. Being trans is the truest kind of victory, the kind that is won with a great deal of expense. It is indescribable, and these words are clumsy in trying to capture it. My point is, it definitely means something—something very deep, personal, and impossible to explain.

If one of the goals of fighting cis-sexism is ending gender as we know it, then how can this coexist with transgenderism?

Transgender identities are complicated and not uniform. They include all kinds of people with all kinds of goals for how gender should evolve and change. So this question I can only answer for myself.

Gender is a multi-faceted word, but I think what you mean here is that one of the goals of fighting cis-sexism [the valuing of cisgender identities through framing gender discussions around cis identities and making trans identities “other”] is working to end the gender binary. In my experience, transgender identities (and learning to respect them) serve to undermine the gender binary!

While the gender binary is a system of oppression that subjugates women and disenfranchises trans people, gender identity is flexible and highly individualized. Ending the gender binary does not mean eradicating gender identities—far from it. It means making space for more of them. Being able to claim your own gender identity is a valuable part of the human experience, and everyone ought to be able to do so without the fear of violence.

There are some who would say we do not need to end the gender binary, but just complicate it more and create space for non-binary identities to be recognized. While personally I believe we can and deserve to go further, complicating the gender binary is certainly the first step towards creating space for all people to live authentic lives—not in spite of their gender identities but because of them.

Until we agree to listen to each other and allow all people to be the experts on their gender identities, the gender binary will persist. So put your gender pronouns in your email signature, teach trans 101 workshops at your school, and most of all, assume less and listen more.

We also need to address access to gender-affirming healthcare and protect against employment discrimination, not to mention protecting trans people’s rights to use the restroom of their choice.

I eagerly prepare for the day when all of us take ownership of our bodies and cast off the yoke of a binary gender system that harms every person—a  day when we are all trans, determining our identities as we see fit, and moving about a spectrum of gender identities rather than clinging to a socially constructed, harmful binary. I should say, though, that while this might be the endgame, being trans has never been about an endgame for me. My trans identity is the exact place where the personal intersects with the political. This is just who I am, and this work is done in the hopes that you, and only you, can get to be just who you are, too.

Your question about fighting cis-sexism through ending the gender binary is an evolving one. Just as the butch community who nursed our community through the AIDS crisis could never have predicted the current prevalence of trans identities at the time, we can’t assume what the future will hold, or how our conceptions of gender and identity will evolve over time. Gender is a product of place, culture, and the economy—consider, for instance, how third-gender people in the Philippines are more and more claiming binary trans identities because of globalization. I’m sure my answer, my identity, and my point of view will seem outdated even a decade from now.

But today at least, to fight the gender binary, we must keep our heads down and work, and allow ourselves to be surprised by what the future holds. I bet the next crop of rainbow children will have brilliant ideas and move our world forward in ways we never could have imagined.

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"I’m trans, and I’ve avoided going to any doctor for a long time. I have no idea how to find someone who will understand and make me feel safe. How do I find a trans inclusive doctor?? And what should I ask once I’m there to make sure they’re actually accepting?"

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Riley Johnson Says:

Congrats on seeking care after some time away! I have had this tendency for avoidance a time or two myself. Accessing care and being consistently on top of one’s health can be a challenge for trans folks. In 2011, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 28% of respondents postponed medical care due to discrimination and 48% postponed because they couldn’t afford it. So we are definitely not alone, unfortunately. There is definitely help on the horizon though.

RAD Remedy is a community-driven, nonprofit organization that created the first review and referral site for trans, gender non-conforming, intersex, and queer health. The Referral Aggregator Database (RAD) is live in open beta and has approximately 3,000 providers with more being added daily. RAD Remedy aims to make it possible for folks to find great doctors nationwide and know precisely what to expect when accessing care. Providers come to RAD in one of three ways – through an intensive questionnaire about their practice and expertise, through referrals from community organizations, and through the reviews of folks like us who have seen the provider. I would encourage you to check the database first, and if you have trouble finding what you need, drop RAD Remedy a line and we’ll work with you to find a good solution. [I can be reached at riley@radremedy.org.]

Next, I’d like to talk briefly about strategies for getting care safely and knowing the questions you can ask to find a welcoming and knowledgeable provider. I think it’s important to be real and say that we as trans folks need to meet providers where they’re at. Looking for a provider who is an expert and has many trans clients is great, but it can be unrealistic at times depending on your location. More often you will find a provider who is interested in serving trans clients but hasn’t done so yet. TransLine operates a medical consultation service to help those providers, and RAD Remedy works with providers to improve their practices, forms, and processes to make them more welcoming.

It’s also important to note that what I consider acceptable in a provider may not be what you might. Gather all of the information you can and make the best choice for your situation. Before you make your choice, I find it’s helpful to sit down with yourself and identify the following:

Must Haves: [an example from my list: providers must use my right name.]
It Would Be Nice: [an example from my list: I would prefer that a provider has experience with trans clients but I’m willing to work with one who hasn’t done so yet.]
Dealbreakers: [an example from my list: messing up my medications, being hostile or fatphobic, etc.]

Some key questions you can ask the provider (or ask the front desk person to ask the provider personally) to ascertain whether or not a provider is trans-affirming:

1. I am a transgender man (trans woman, nonbinary person, etc.) in need of primary care/gynecological care/etc. Will this be a problem?
2. Does the provider have experience with trans clients?
3. Have the provider and clinic staff been trained about trans issues?

Here are some best practices for providers serving trans clients (and ways patients like us can subtly see whether a provider is affirming):

*Do the intake forms have a spot for preferred name and/or pronoun?
*Does the office location have gender neutral or single stall restrooms?
*Does the office art reflect the clientele? If there are pictures, are the people in them diverse in age, race, etc?
*Does the office have magazine subscriptions for LGBTQ publications?
*Does the office have an efficient and transparent means of providing feedback or complaints if needed?

Here are some key general strategies for getting the most out of your time with your provider and feeling safe while you do it:

*Use the buddy system. Other than in some domestic violence screenings, you’re allowed to have a friend or loved one in with you for office visits and exams. You can insist that they come in with you to the exam room.
*Know the questions you’d like answered or the medical issues you’re having. Some folks find it helpful to jot down a short list so they’ve got a plan for the visit. Try to keep your list short and prioritized, since you often won’t have a lot of time with the provider.
* If you are concerned about information being listed “on the record”, discuss the issue with your provider. Providers will usually tell you the sort of information they feel compelled to record and what can be discussed “off the record”.
*Take notes when in with the provider (or have your buddy do it). It can be hard to remember what gets said in a visit – particularly if you’re nervous.

Lastly, know that you have the right to access health care without experiencing discrimination. Earlier this year, a federal court in Minnesota issued a preliminary ruling that discrimination against an individual because of his gender identity is prohibited under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. For more information on how to file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services (usually after a provider-based complaint has failed or if things are particularly egregious), check out their website.

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