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“I have started to think I might be a lesbian. Thinking about it makes me feel wonderful, like I belong and everything is right in the world. I keep daydreaming about girls and having a girlfriend. I never thought about boys that way. Sometimes though, I feel like I’m faking it, because I have no idea how to feel. The thought of me being wrong about this makes me so upset. Any advice?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

I am going to take a moment here and repeat some words that you just said back to your sweet, sweet head so that we are all sure we have heard them:

“Thinking about it makes me feel wonderful, like I belong and everything is right in the world.”

Let me tell you something, dear, sweet Anon: those feelings are anything but fake. They are wonderful, amazing, incredible, awesome, totally badass feelings. You should take those feelings and hold them close to your heart-space and then put on your coziest sweater and then lie on top of the snuggliest blanket you can find on the fluffiest bed with the poofiest pillows and then ROLL AROUND AND AROUND ALL IN THOSE GOOD FEELINGS.

We don’t fake feelings. If you are feeling those warm, awesome things when you think about having a girlfriend, that means those are your feelings and they are real real real real real. If those feelings connect to the word “lesbian” for you then VOILA, you are a lesbian! Regardless of the word you use to describe them, they are real and true… and they are yours.

Let me tell you what else! If, in two days or months or years or decades those feelings change?? That still doesn’t mean you were faking it. It means that in 2016 you rolled all around in brilliant feelings and daydreamed about girls and maybe even dated a bunch of them or married one of them or WHO EVEN KNOWS WHAT YOU DID… but you had a blast, and now, perhaps, those feelings happen from some other desire or human or thing or place.

We are people and every moment we breathe in and breathe out, we change.

My advice to you is this: trust yourself. You aren’t wrong. You can’t be wrong about your feelings because you are you, and you know who you are today better than anyone else. Allow yourself to be that person, and allow yourself to wake up tomorrow and rediscover everything all over again. No one day invalidates the last one, and no one feeling invalidates any others.

<3

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"I Do Not Need Gender"

An essay by Tyler Ford

As a child, there were two things I wished for every night before falling asleep: braces (I was strangely obsessed with orthodontia) and different genitals. I didn’t have much of an understanding of gender, but I knew the word “girl” fit as uncomfortably as the skirts I refused to wear. From the age of three, I was insisting that my body was not my own and not what I wanted. What was “down there” felt wrong to me in ways that I could not articulate, but I knew that there were people out there with different genitals from the ones I had, and I thought I might want those. Everyone called me a tomboy; I settled only because “boy” made up half of the word.

Yet as I grew older, I longed to experience girlhood. I wanted to fit in, I wanted to have a normal teenage life like I saw in movies, and I wanted to be seen and to be validated by my peers. Most of all, I wanted to grow up to be a woman because I loved the women in my life, and I wanted to identify with them. My desire to exist as a boy and my inability to feel like a girl pulled me in one direction, and my desire to ground myself in what others called “reality” – seemingly the only path to normalcy, pulled me in the opposite direction. At times, I felt like saltwater taffy – a really shitty flavor of the sort – being stretched until I could no longer recognize myself.

Most of my life has been spent swinging back and forth on a pendulum, trying to figure out which side – boy or girl – I would inevitably make my home. I spent years desperate to feel any sense of stability, to feel any sort of permanent allegiance to one of those two genders, to feel like I belonged anywhere at all. I’d spend one year in bras and miniskirts and the next injecting myself with 200mg of testosterone weekly. I could alter my body, wear different clothes, change my mannerisms and my speech, and none of it could change my confused heart, which would vibrate out of control every time I tried to hold my gender still and teach it to behave. Throughout my life (and constantly now), people have read me as in-between male and female. I am not in-between anything but the confines of the Western gender binary.

For the most part, I like to completely ignore the fact that my body exists at all. I am a walking brain; I am a galaxy of stars; I am unable to be contained in and defined by something so limiting. My pronouns (they/them) are both a rallying cry against being gendered without my consent, and a way in which I embrace both everything I am and everything I am not. I do not need to fit into or belong to an identity to exist, to survive, to make other people comfortable. I need space and I need freedom; I need compassion and I need kindness; I need openness and I need understanding; I need my own love. I do not need gender.

***
Crowned one of the best social media stars of 2015 by MTV, Tyler Ford is a 25-year-old NYC-based agender writer, speaker, consultant, and personality. They are a contributor for Rookie and MTV, where they often write about their experiences as a queer transgender person. Their work can also be found in the GuardianPoetry Magazine, and V Magazine

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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.

***

Click through to read more about Riley and our other contributors!

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"I'm in college, and I just got accepted into a study abroad program and I could not be more excited!! I have wanted to do this for a long time. However, recently I have also been coming to terms with my queerness and the country I'd be living in isn't exactly the safest for queer people. Should I even bother going? And if I do, how do I deal with being closeted for 4 more months?"

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Jasmine An Says:

Congratulations on being accepted to your study abroad program! This is such a huge accomplishment and something you can feel proud of. Study abroad is an intense experience. Immersing yourself in a foreign country and culture can lead to the absolute best experiences of your life, and also some of the hardest. While I can’t make your decision for you, I’ll do my best to offer up some of the things I thought about before embarking on six months of study abroad in Thailand.

Safety first: I can’t speak to the specifics of the country you’re thinking of living in, or the specifics of your situation. However, it is likely that as a foreigner and a study abroad student you will be relatively shielded from physical harm. This is not at all to diminish the seriousness of deciding to place yourself in a potentially hostile living situation. The mental and emotional impact of living in a place where you are unsure of your safety is a hugely important consideration. Before committing to study abroad, you should make certain you’re ready for the challenge of adjusting to the dynamics of a new society and culture.

As you mentioned, one of the particular challenges for us queer folks abroad is potentially going back into the closet and hanging up the EVERYONE IS GAY t-shirts for a while. After recently coming to terms with your own queerness, it can definitely feel demoralizing and painful to put that part of your identity under wraps (again). I spent years impressing upon my family and friends that I wasn’t comfortable with traditionally feminine clothing, and then found out that I would have to wear a skirt as part of my school uniform in Thailand. I had to ask myself, was the chance to study in Thailand worth disguising myself in a skirt every day? Ultimately I decided that for me, it was.

However, you are the best judge of your own situation. If you feel like you’d rather stay in a known environment and really invest in exploring your queerness—do it! The country you want to visit will still be there in a few years if you decide you need time to devote to yourself before going abroad. Being surrounded by a strong and affirming community while exploring your identity is an invaluable privilege, and if you have that opportunity in your life in the States, take advantage of it.

On the flip side, if you have been thinking about going abroad to this country for a long time and are really excited about the trip and challenging yourself in a new context, go for it! Homophobia rears its ugly head in many places, including our own communities in the USA. But queer spaces and individuals are also infinitely present, even in countries with reputations for less than stellar track records in protecting their queer citizens. No country is perfect, especially/even our own, but don’t let that stop you from grabbing for adventure with both hands.

Should you decide to go abroad, there are many small things that you can do to nourish your personal queerness. It cannot be said enough, you are by no means, in no way shape or form a “bad queer” if you are not out and loud about it. You owe nobody an explanation or a quantification of your sexuality. If being “in the closet” allows you to decrease your anxiety while you are abroad, be unashamedly in the closet. As long as you, in your heart and mind, are secure in your own queerness, never feel obligated to perform your queerness in order to legitimize it.

That being said, it can be incredibly lonely to go from out ‘n proud to silent about your identity. I feel you. What enabled me to play along with the general assumption I was straight while abroad was the fact that I had an incredibly supportive community both back home and among my study abroad peers that I could turn to when I needed them.

If you are traveling with other students who you like and trust, talk to them. If you’re lucky you may even find someone in the same boat as you. Find someone(s) you can go to whenever you need to word vomit rainbows or cry over heteronormativity.

If you aren’t traveling with other students, or aren’t comfortable sharing your queerness with them, find a way to set up a virtual support community. Facebook, Skype, and other social networking platforms are really at their best when helping us stay connected to our people across time zones and oceans. Also, keeping up with queer culture via websites like Autostraddle was a huge balm to my queer soul while I was abroad.

Find spaces where you don’t have to hide your queerness. Even if you decide that for safety’s sake you will be in the closet while abroad, create spaces where you can drop that mask, even for just 15 minutes of scrolling through pictures of attractive folk on the Internet.

Don’t forget that the local queer folk are all around you, whether you recognize them or not. I was in a Thai drugstore filling a prescription when the pharmacist winked and asked if I had a girlfriend yet. Maybe “queer” in this country looks nothing like what you think of as queerness. Maybe they don’t call themselves queer. Maybe queer does not translate into their language. But they are there.

Finally, delight in the smallest acts of subversion. In Thai, the word for “significant other” is gender neutral. I had a long conversation with my host parents describing my partner, and I’m positive they were happily imagining my American boyfriend, while I was telling them all about my American girlfriend. Look for inside jokes and small things that remind you of your own queerness. Find ways to be proudly, obnoxiously, loudly queer in your own head if nowhere else.

Whatever you decide, best of luck in your coming adventures!

***

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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.

***

Click through to read more about Mahdia and our other contributors!

Also check out our resource list specifically for LGBTQ Muslim youth, curated as a part of Longest Days, Sacred Nights!

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