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“I’m starting college in September and I decided to live in a single this year because I’m just starting to transition. I’m worried about living alone and missing out on the social scene. I know I want a roommate in the future, but how should I go about finding one and talking to them about my identity?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Liam Lowery as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Liam Says:

Let me start out by saying how excited I am for you! Congratulations to you for making the tough choice to room in a single and not let the FOMO get the best of you. You deserve this time to focus on all the changes in your life—transitioning into college life as well as your gender identity— and trust that friends will come.

First and foremost, when you talk about your identity with folks at school, be patient with yourself. You are new at this. You will make mistakes. Sometimes you will wait too long to tell people, other times you will say something sooner than you wished. Especially when you are meeting new people.

But part of the goal of college is for you to meet new people, of all sorts. You will, I’m sure, be one of, if not the, first trans person many of your classmates have met. And they will, likely be one of, if not the, first _____ (insert any type of person) you have met.

To that point, in order to make sure you don’t miss out on the social scene: make yourself do things. Living in a single room and transitioning, it’s natural to isolate yourself a bit—so just be aware of that and stay plugged into events at school, attend club meetings, try things out. Make a calendar and get yourself out there.

As far as finding a roommate next year, I would recommend trying to live with someone you feel comfortable with—this might mean someone from the queer community, or it might mean finding someone who is super into Dr. Who and likes to silly-dance to old Ke$ha songs while cleaning the floor.

The biggest thing to remember is that your unique needs as a trans person are of equal worth (if not greater) than any other preferences you may have.

When I first roomed with someone in college, a randomly assigned cisgender straight woman, I was nervous my identity and the correlating needs I had would be taken less seriously than, say, her allergies. I was pleasantly surprised when, after I came out, she suggested we come up with roommate policies to address my concerns.

For a while, this included a blanket policy against nudity (dysmorphia was rough), scheduling time for us each to be alone in the room privately (a.k.a. when I would take my binder off and sit in front of a fan), and a policy limiting room-visitors to those who were pre-screened as non-transphobic. (Yes, in case you are wondering, this person was the best and we are tight to this day).

Your room or apartment is your home, and you deserve to feel totally comfortable. For me, that meant being out to everyone who walked in the door. For you, that could mean being stealth, or not talking about this aspect of who you are unless you feel safe and know your roommate is cool. Whatever it is, you deserve it, and you should find a roommate who will respect your needs.

This year is a really good time for you to figure out your boundaries, and find someone who you like and think is a good fit. Trust me, it is easier to figure it out on your own and let someone now than to try and figure it out with another person.

But this same principle relates to making friends in college more generally. An absolute base-line is that the person not be transphobic, but good friends will support and love you, and be extra tender and listen harder to your needs relating to being trans.

Recently, I was in that time period where a cool acquaintance was becoming a friend. You will be experiencing this a lot, once you are in school. This person seemed really cool— though she identified as straight and cisgender, I was able to talk with her about being trans and it was not weird.

Then, one day, as often happens when you are trans (even after you transition, wait and see!) someone did something transphobic. It was one of those micro-aggressions that typically roll off my back, but for whatever reason, on this day, it was too much. I had a lunch date with this new friend, though, and sat picking quietly at my lunch when she asked, “You seem upset, what’s up?”

I told her what happened, and not dispassionately. She nodded, shook her head, and said “what in the actual f“ when appropriate. And, as you’d think, it felt much better to have talked to someone. Most of all though, it felt good to know my friend was as cool as she seemed.

“Thanks for letting me talk about this stuff,” I said, suddenly embarrassed and looking down at my feet while we walked back from lunch “And like, being an ally or whatever.”

She scoffed and raised her eyebrows. “I don’t need a title,” she said, cocking her head at me, “I’m not doing anything, I am just not being an actual pile of garbage.” I laughed, but she turned and looked at me dead in the eye, “That’s pretty much the absolute least you deserve.”

And that is how I knew she was not just a friend, but a good friend.

In school, you will meet many cool acquaintances, friends, and if you’re lucky, some good friends. But remember that your trans identity is not a negative, and that you deserve to be listened to and respected. As you meet more people, look for the ones who treat you that way—those who do so without fail, and without you having to ask—and keep them close to you through college and beyond. These people also tend to make very good roommates.

Good luck and have a great first semester!

***

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"My mom thinks that Caitlyn Jenner is just pulling a publicity stunt and 'isn’t really trans.' What do I say to that?"

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

*sighs heavily*

There are two kinds of moms/people in the world, so it really depends on what kind of mom-person you are dealing with. I am hoping that you have the kind of mom-person who says, “I THINK THIS THING BC OF BLAHBLAH,” but who will then respond to calmly-delivered exchanges of information intended to help educate her more on the issue that she’s blabberin’ on about right now without much knowledge. Moms being people, too, though, you may have the kind of mom-person who doesn’t want to listen, and who doesn’t want to learn. There are many people out there who, sadly, for reasons of hatred or phobia or a combination therein, latch onto the first thing they can find to dismantle the lived reality of other people and refuse to let go of it for any reason.

It’s Monday, though, and I need to grab a hold of some positivity, so I am going to assume that your momma is going to at least allow a conversation to happen. Cool? COOL.

Here is what I would say:

“Mom, the things you said about Caitlyn Jenner coming out as trans as ‘a publicity stunt’ upset me. I know that Caitlyn is someone who has lived much of her life in a spotlight of some kind, but her experience as a person on this planet deserves to be believed as much as anyone else’s. Especially for trans people, who many discount or disbelieve whether they are in the spotlight or not, it is so important that we remember that we cannot know any person’s experience better than they can know their own. It’s also so important to remember how scary and difficult it can be to tell anyone about parts of our gender identity and sexuality… let alone the entire planet.

That said, I know that most of us don’t have a lot of knowledge about what it means to be transgender, and so it could be a bit confusing. I put together a little list of articles** that I think could be really helpful in getting a better understanding of trans communities, and was wondering if you’d consider reading them? We could even read them together! Before you even get there, though, I would love to watch the speech that Caitlyn gave at the ESPY Awards with you – in it she directly speaks to some of the feelings you’ve been having, and explains how important her visibility is to the thousands of trans youth across the world.”

Now, your mom may interrupt you at various points while you talk – maybe she will say she does understand what transgender means and counter you, or maybe she will say she doesn’t understand how her opinion could upset you personally. Think about each of these sentiments that you are speaking so that if she pushes back, you can (calmly, if possible) explain yourself further.

The biggest point, in my mind, is to ask her how she would feel if she shared something about herself and was met with people who thought she was simply doing it for attention. My biggest successes in these kinds of situations happen when I draw parallels to something that the asker/non-believer (in this case your mom) has been through. We are humans, after all, and we tend to be pretty self-centered. If we can pull on mom’s experience to show her that not being believed when we share a part of ourselves with anyone is very hurtful, she may develop the empathy she needs to be supportive of both Caitlyn and the thousands of trans people across the planet who also desperately need to be believed, respected, and celebrated.

**There are many places that you can pull resources for your mom, but the ones I know best are The Gender BookThe Parents Project – Gender Section, and The Art of Transliness Resource List – readers, add more if you have ‘em!

***

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“I’m a straight transman—but before I figured that out, I identified as a lesbian for a long time. Is it weird that I still watch Everyone Is Gay’s videos and have AfterEllen bookmarked and watch films for the lesbian representation, even though I’m a straight bloke??”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Liam Lowery as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Liam Says:

Oh, my fellow Former Lesbian. What you describe (both the behavior and the concern that it is weird or inappropriate) is 100% not at all weird.

I understand your conflict, though. When I began to identify as trans and queer instead of as a lesbian, it felt like I was losing a community—or at least losing the right to watch a number of television shows I previously liked. I used to feel like I was obligated to consume all of this because they were in the lesbian lexicon, but after transitioning I felt like a weird voyeur partaking in these things.

Part of this fascination, of course, is that there’s just something special about lesbians. There’s no bones about it: they are charming and charismatic, they are funny and irreverent.

But more than that, at one time you identified as a lesbian. Perhaps, like me, you still would like to be one—all but for your pesky gender identity. Maybe you still have an Indigo Girls poster on your wall. Maybe you see the lesbian subplot in Skins as a golden age of television herstory.

When you identify as a member of a community that is almost always underrepresented and misrepresented in the vast, to see your life mirrored can mean something. Maybe you miss that.

Back when I was a teen lesbian, every gay woman I new was watching The L Word. I had this feeling like all lesbians lived in the same apartment building—though we all had a different view, we all felt at home in the same place.

You, my dear friend, sublet an apartment in that building, perhaps for decades. You moved out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t miss it. You can be homesick for a place that proved not to be your ultimate home. And now that you don’t live there anymore, you probably miss that feeling. I know I do.

Even so, the time you sublet a room in Sappho Towers was real. You lived it. You felt it. And in that way, you’ll always be a lesbian—culturally, anyway.

Being trans is an identity that is similar to being a lesbian in some ways, but different in others. There’s a lot more fractioning off—case and point being that you identify as a straight transman whereas I identify as a queer transmasculine person. Some of this is part and parcel with how open-ended it is to identify as transgender at all, whereas identifying as a lesbian conveys (on some level) both a gender identity and a sexual identity.

In trans media representation, there is no monolithic “trans” identity. And this is a good thing! There is room for nuance and an acknowledgement of difference within the trans community. But at the same time, there is no AfterLaverne or AfterChaz to read. While there are increasing trans representations on television and in film, there is not a campy television series we all love to hate (though The T Word, hopefully, will become a reality someday).

Let’s say, though, that you are a straight cisgender dude who has never so much as met a lesbian, but you really like to read Everyone Is Gay and your favorite movie is But I’m a Cheerleader. What’s wrong with that? Just like how you wouldn’t be upset if a cis person watched Transparent (and many do, thank goodness), consuming gay culture is fine if you’re straight. In fact, it’s kind of the point—queer media is being presented not only to people within the community, but outside of it as a means of representing the community. In fact, if more straight and cis people watched shows featuring LGBTQ characters or read Everyone is Gay, that would likely satisfy the goals of the creators: to provide LGBTQ folks with an image of themselves on screen, and to disrupt a constant stream of straight cisgender representation.

So watch and read away, my friend—you have more than enough reason to.

***

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“I’m FTM trans, but I have only recently started to transition and haven’t yet had to dress up for a formal event. Prom is coming up soon and I have no idea how even to wear a suit or a tux. Help!”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Anita Dolce Vita as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Anita Says:

Congratulations on embarking on this challenging but exciting personal journey of self-empowerment and self-love. For many of us, clothing is an extremely powerful tool in affirming our identities, and not having the resources and support to assist in finding a style that matches who we are on the inside can be anxiety producing. But, we’re here to help!

Society puts less emphasis on masculine attire, leading most people to think that masculine clothing, especially suits, is fairly ordinary and easy to pull off. For example, most conversations about prom and wedding formalwear focus primarily on feminine attire. However, masculine formalwear is actually quite complicated and layered. So much so, in fact, that leading “menswear” magazines have published manuals with entire chapters dedicated to the art of wearing suits and tuxedos. There’s lots to learn about this art, but style experts agree that proper fit is the most important element to execute flawlessly.

But, here’s the issue with fit: Of all the elements, it’s the most difficult to achieve. The Handbook of Style: A Man’s Guide to Looking Good by Esquire Magazine writes, “Are you a ‘drop six’? If you are, you’re a suit maker’s dream: Your chest is six inches larger than your waist. You can wear anything. Sadly, most of us don’t live inside those ideal tailoring measurements.” This means that tailoring formalwear is a necessary (and sometimes expensive) evil for many. Starting out with the best fit possible will minimize the amount of tailoring, if any, you’ll require for off-the-rack suits. (You can also get a suit custom made to your exact needs.) But, you must first know the language of suits (e.g., vents, breaks, single-breasted, etc.) so that you can communicate your fit needs. dapperQ published a very helpful three-part suit manual on Autostraddle to help queer folx negotiate the world of suits. You can find the chapters herehere, and here.

Once you have a good understanding of what it is you’re looking for in terms of fit and price, the next step is to actually go out and find it. Here are some queer and queer-friendly owned formalwear retailers that dapperQ readers swear by:

Of course, if you are not a fashion head and just want to dress in “appropriate” formalwear attire, you can opt for a black suit or tuxedo and dress shoes. Boom, you’re done! But, if you are a style geek and want to stand out from the pack, add some personal touches. Now is the time to take style risks, break the rules, and get creative. Here are some ways to get your suit/tuxedo game on fleek:

  • Pair your suit/tuxedo with sneakers, high tops, or studded slippers
  • Ditch the flower boutonniere and instead rock a handmade pin, perhaps one made of metal, knit, paper or cloth
  • Add colorful, patterned socks
  • Since your jacket and pants do not necessarily have to be the same color, wear an evening jacket with non-matching pants
  • Wear a suit/tuxedo with patterns and/or bold colors, rather than just reaching for standard black, blue, white, and gray

I have created a Pinterest board to inspire some prom creativity, which you can find here. The most important accessory is confidence. Wear your suit with pride and have a great time. And, don’t forget to share your prom pictures with dapperQ at dapperQ@gmail.com

***

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“My friend has recently begun the process of transitioning from male to female. She hasn’t told many people (including family) and still dresses male for work etc. She is really struggling with still having to pretend, but knows she isn’t really to be fully out yet. I’m 100% supportive, but I don’t know what words I can say to help her. I can keep saying I’m here for her, but is there any other way I can help make life a little easier for her???”

- Question asked by Anonymous and answered by Red Davidson as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Red Says:

I want to preface my answer by saying: I am not a trans woman. I can only answer this question from my own experience of being nonbinary and having trans friends (most of whom are men given where I currently am). My advice is also informed by the things I look for/want from allies. However, in order to be an effective ally to your friend you’re going to have to do a lot of your own reading and thinking. You also need to be prepared to know that you’re going to mess up sometimes, and that when you do you will need to take that as an opportunity to learn, whether it be from your friend or someone else, instead of getting defensive. We live in a very transmisogynistic society, so everyone who is not a trans woman, including myself, need to understand that we are culpable in benefiting from and upholding (despite our best intentions) transmisogyny.

One of the easiest things you can do to support someone who has come out to you, especially if they’re still in the closet to most other people, is to listen and to be a source of validation. What works as validation may vary from person to person, but for me sometimes validation is something as small as people using my name (i.e. not my birth name). Or hearing myself be referred to by the correct pronouns. But validation also includes not belittling negative feelings and emotions she might express.  If your friend experiences dysphoria and talks about it with you, even if it might be tempting to try to comfort her by making the problem seem less intense than it is, that might actually make your friend feel worse, or like she can’t trust you. If she needs/wants help getting clothing that she feels more comfortable in, you can offer to give her some clothes that you’re not using anymore (if she’s close to your size) or offer to go shopping with her. There are also clothing exchanges online specifically for trans people.

I think that one of the biggest things you can do to support someone is to read and learn more.  Don’t just be a “friend,” work to be an ally.  Allyship doesn’t exist in stasis, you can’t “achieve” allyship—it’s a constant process of unlearning and learning. Read! Read things written by trans women. Read things written by trans women of color. Janet Mock and Laverne Cox are both pretty high profile people right now, and it’s fairly easy to find videos of both of them speaking about transmisogyny. But there’s also a lot of history of trans women’s writing and theory. Read things about and by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. Read things you can find written by trans women bloggers who aren’t famous. Learn the right language to use—especially because it can change pretty frequently. For example, most trans people don’t like the phrases “male to female” or “female to male” because it implies that they were once “actually” the gender they were assigned at birth. And question your assumptions. Learn to recognize the thoughts and preconceptions you have that are oppressive/transmisogynistic.  There is no perfect process of doing this work, and there’s no easy way to answer this question.

Here is a (short) list of books by black trans women. I would also recommend reading things written by trans women at Autostraddle. And you can always Google things and look around Tumblr for things written by trans women about allyship.

Unlearning oppression is very difficult, and trying to learn how to support a friend without accidentally hurting them in the process—especially if you don’t have any other people to talk to about it—can be scary. Coming out for the first time is also a really scary and vulnerable experience. While you might be feeling uncertain about the best ways to support your friend, your friend is probably feeling a lot more scared and unsure about how they feel being out, and how they feel about still being in the closet to people. So, again, one of the easiest things you can do is talk, listen, love, and remember that sometimes you might mess up, but that it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.

***

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