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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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“So I’m a nonbinary trans man and I’m starting college next year. At college I want to start going by my preferred name and pronouns, maybe presenting a bit more masculine, etc. BUT. I’m confused on one thing… Should I tell people I’m trans when I meet them? Like, I don’t want to like, have to explain what being trans is or stuff right when I meet people, especially since I have trouble with social anxiety already. But I’m worried they might assume I’m a girl if I don’t explain.”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Liam Lowery Says:

Hi there, Anonymous. As a non-binary trans man who started going by my preferred name and pronouns in college, I’m glad you reached out with this question. The fact that you’re reaching out at all indicates you have your stuff far more together than I did as an incoming freshman, but I will tell you the top three things I wish I had known when I started undergrad.

The first and most important thing I can tell you is to let people pleasantly surprise you.

When I rolled into my all-girls dorm and met my lady roommate, I stutteringly told her I was trans Actually, I may have said, “I’m a dude, kind of like inside?” I braced for impact, assuming she would ask to change rooms. Instead, she said “cool” and asked me if I wanted to order pizza. Don’t discount that you can get lucky.

What’s more, all the women in my dorm who I feared would shun me were friendly and generally disinterested in my gender identity. That’s because from the first week on, we had papers to write, philosophy texts to read, passages in Russian to translate (maybe that was just me). On top of that, people were hooking up, fighting, and going to Taco Night at the cafeteria. Which is to say that once you are in school and dealing with the day-to-day, it will likely not be as challenging as it seems in the abstract.

My advice is to practice your script for when you meet people initially. Maybe you want to say you’re non-binary, maybe you just want to say your name and preferred pronouns. It will probably change, but the important thing is that you set boundaries for your everyday interactions and introductions that are comfortable for you. Once you do this a few times, you will get used to it and feel out how much you want to say and when.

Now, to the second big thing I wish I’d realized sooner. There is a major pitfall to be wary of, especially as a trans person: you will feel pressure to do the unpaid work of educating people when there are others who are tasked with that responsibility. Try not to fall into this role.

Early in my time in undergrad, when I did happen upon some poor unfortunate soul who had no clue what gender identity was and had never heard the word trans before, I would talk with them at length about gender identity and why it mattered. I had at least thirty of these conversations in my first month of school, I kid you not. It left me feeling burnt out and unsatisfied.

Here is the thing, Anonymous: you are at school to learn, just like everyone else. And hopefully, have a blast and make a lot of friends. But you are not there to be anyone’s personal gender identity educator, even if you happen to be an expert in the subject area.

Looking back, I realize that those people who had burning questions about what gender pronouns are should have just googled it. I mean, give me a break here—gender pronouns are what they sound like!

Asking me those simplistic questions just because they knew I was trans was disrespectful of my time. If nobody is paying you to do that educational work and there are a lot of great resources available to people who want to be allies, you do not need to be that resource. Stepping into that role instills an expectation that trans people exist to educate cis people. If you want to get involved on your campus, advocate for your school to include a transgender 101 training at orientation so that all students will get some info on trans identities—that would reach more people than a one-on-one chat with you.

The other important pitfall to side-step is one I never realized until I was done with school, and it might be even more important than the whole “you are not everyone’s gender professor” thing.

My RA didn’t really get it when I told her it was important that she take the sign with my given name off the door. Instead of complaining to the building manager, I ripped it off and put up on that said Liam in big, honking block letters. I did that, more or less, all through college: I would email professors at the beginning of the semester and ask them to change my name on their class rosters. Usually they would, sometimes they wouldn’t. I would get called by my given name in class, be embarrassed, and stop participating. Or if I felt brave that day, I would clear my throat and say, “Actually, I’m Liam.”

Those moments were far from personal triumphs. What I should have realized is that there were salaried staff members at my university tasked with helping students—including me—deal with administrative issues. By making my problems and myself invisible, I was giving them a free pass not to engage with the issues transgender students often face at colleges.

Look for opportunities to lessen your load so you can take full advantage of being a college student. For instance, contact a dean at your school and ask them to inform professors about your preferred name. Let people do their jobs for you, and by extension you will show them how to do it for other trans students.

There you go, Anonymous—those are the things I wish I knew when I started school that have remained relevant (at times, too relevant) since graduating. Good luck at college, and remember: you’re there to learn and occasionally have fun!

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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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“I grew up in a Muslim household. I’ve recently come to terms with being trans, and while I want to stay connected to my faith, I’m not sure how to reconcile my identity as a trans person with my identity as a Muslim.”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Mahdia Lynn Says:

Mash’allah! What a blessing, to be Muslim and trans. Islam is such a beautiful and dynamic faith. And! Trans people are friggin’ awesome. Being a TRANS MUSLIM!? This is awesome. You are awesome. Yes.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, of course. Holding on to your faith while being “different” can be a real struggle—and being trans is a pretty big “different” to deal with. The highly normative, gender segregated culture that is so common can make navigating Muslim spaces a minefield of gender feels. And while a lot of people in the community are more accommodating and accepting of trans people than you’d think, it’s often the bigots who yell the loudest.

That doesn’t mean Islam as a whole is unaccepting of transgender people. In fact, multiple well-respected scholars have ruled in favor of transgender people’s rights (like the Grand Mufti Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy of Al-Azhar, the oldest Islamic university in the world, who ruled in favor of modern transgender pioneer Sally Mursi in 1992) and many governments have followed suit (like when the Islamic Republic of Pakistan provided a “third gender” option on legal documentation in 2009 or how the Islamic Republic of Iran provides financial and legal support for its citizens undergoing transition ever since 1987). While the language we use to describe ourselves may change over time, gender variant people have existed since well before the time of the Prophet Muhammad(SAW) and Islam is a dynamic and diverse faith that makes room for all its followers—cis and trans alike.

Here are some strategies that have worked for Muslims like us: A lot of people choose to avoid the masjid* during the early stages of transition. Some start visiting a new mosque, making it easier to use the washroom without being clocked from that one nosy aunt who’s known you from birth. Still a great number of people—trans and cis—have begun creating our own spaces out of exhaustion and frustration with the heteronormativity of it all. LGBTQ friendly, gender-equal, and trans affirming Muslim space is becoming more and more accessible every day—if you’re near any kind of major city (or even some less-than-major ones), chances are there’s a family of queer & trans Muslims meeting up for coffee or having a potluck this Friday. If you can’t find a real-world community quite yet, the el-Tawhid Unity Mosque in Toronto Skypes its jummah services every Friday.

One of the many blessings of my life is that I have a great deal of transgender Muslim family to help field questions like this. Sitting back with such lovely friends last week I asked, “If you could give advice to a Muslim just coming to terms with being trans, what would you say?” It sparked a great conversation—inspiring and engaging, much like most of the conversations I have with such family—but it was what my gender-nonspecific-sibling Fatima said which sums everything up better than I ever could:

“Allah(SWT) doesn’t make mistakes and as such you are not a mistake. Your knowing in yourself is leagues more honest and mature, with wisdom and intelligence, than the things society says/thinks/enforces. Trust in yourself and Allah and make room for the process to learn yourself even though it may be long and confusing and sometimes painful.”

Our faith does not belong to the bigots. Whatever happens and wherever your path leads, there is family to have your back and provide support. The way society divides and stresses it can seem like there’s nobody else on the planet like you. But we’re here. Getting by in our own quiet ways, living out Islam as best we can.

~

A glossary for some Muslim-y jargon used here:

– “Mash’allah” is a phrase that means something like “Allah has willed it,” used to express gratitude or happiness at a person or happening.

– “masjid” is another name for a mosque, or Islamic community center.

– After the name of the Prophet Muhammad, out of respect Muslims often use the acronym “S.A.W.”, a shortening of the salawat, which translates to something like “may Allah grant peace and honor upon him and his family.” Similarly, after the name of God we can use the acronym “s.w.t.” which translates to “Glory to God, the Exalted.”

– FUN FACT! The world “Allah” is just a literal Arabic translation of “God”—the same one Christians, Jews, and Baha’i pray to, to name a few faiths in the diverse dynamic family of monotheistic religions.

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