The importance of advocacy as a trans woman

Trans rights are human rights

In the bosom of family recently, I was able to see some of my thoughts about coming out emerge from the muck as little specks of gold when panning through the muck.  As a society, we have a long way to go before all people are treated as equal, and it is a fundamental imperative that anyone right-minded person stands up for equality, until the ugly face of bigotry is pulled out from the ground as the nasty poison that it is.

As a trans woman this means that to some I may be an object of hate.  I have not met anyone like this, but the airwaves are full of such people.  It is hard to understand as we are such a tiny fraction of the population, and the terms of debate are really never about us, about the idea of denying a minority group their basic rights.  Instead, it is always about the fears of the person voicing them, voicing the hate.  

What this means to me is that I must advocate, must stand up, must be counted.  I do not like to rub anyone’s face in anything, but I have no choice, because I will simply be, and will not be invisible, and if that is “rubbing someone’s face in it” I will have to hope that me being, my trans brothers and sisters being out, will help all of society to come to terms with whatever demons they are facing.

This is not something I want.  I would be content to just be invisible.  Those are the juiciest moments.  But every day when I go out in my home town, I get stared at…not little glances, but painfully long and weird stares, so that I am inclined to want to give hostile energy back.  Staring is a hostile act.  It means that one’s own sense of propriety has been overridden by the view that something is amiss.  I will choose instead to believe that the starer needs to soak me up, to see that I am here, that we are here, and for them to know that we are everywhere.  We may not be numerous, but we are present.

Living without shame is not being shameless.  It is about knowing that there is nothing shameful about how you are, and therefore who or what you are.  In this sense, my identity is not “trans woman”, or “former man”…no.  Instead it is about being a decent person, embodying grace, showing care towards others, nurturing others.

People will tell you that you are forcing something on them.  How is that possible?  If I am simply me, then how is that forcing something on someone?  What are they confronting but their own demons?

Why should who I am have to wait?  The words, “you just need to be patient.  Give him/her some time to get used to it.”  A number of my friends have said this to me as I have come out about another friend or family member who might be struggling with how different it is for me to be “male” in their eyes on one day, and “female” or “trans” or non-binary on another.

At first I was sympathetic.  After all, it is a big change.  I guess.  But gradually I began to think, “why should I?”  Why would I think that, especially since I have never in my life been an in-your-face person even if my convictions are strong?  Do not mistake quiet conviction for weakness.  Well, I started thinking ‘no’, I want wait, or be patient, because I discovered something.

First, I discovered that this desire to tell me to wait stems from bigotry.  It is as if to say that there is something ‘wrong’ with being trans.  And therefore, since it is my “fault”, then I should be the one who is patient.  But this is a false narrative.  The issue is with them.

I draw a silly parallel…the buying of lingerie.  When I was young, I was a little hesitant to buy lingerie.  I wondered what people might think.  I did it all the time, but that didn’t make much of a difference.  I discovered on my own that being up front about it made it a more pleasant experience—the saleswomen were always helpful.  Not one ever judged me.  They actually went out of their way to help.

But in conversation with a colleague once upon a time, back when I worked for a very popular department store company in England, one whose undies are worn by nearly everyone, I remember what she said from her times working in the lingerie department…it was about the creepy guys, and that you could always tell them, because they were lurkers, and they conveyed this energy that something they were doing was wrong.

It is the vestiges of shame in my own life that used to make me hesitate or feel weird buying lingerie, but when I finally came out to myself, even before I came out to the world around me, my mind changed.  ‘Of course, I am buying lingerie, women’s clothes, whatever.  Of course.  They are not ‘hers’, they are mine too’.  What am I saying?

The difference is a clean heart.

I don’t know that you can get here through the mind.  You can ‘tell’ yourself whatever you want, but it is never enough.  No.  You have to feel it.  How did I do that?  BDSM lanced the boil.  Ex-Mistress helped by beating it out me, by showing me that there was no shame in sexuality, not in mine, not in that of her many clients whose fetishes or desires were often well beyond any that I might have ever conceived of.

What else?  Living on my own, away from family, while it was happening, giving me the time and space to process it all.  Exercise, as there is no better way to clear out mental cobwebs and build resolve around new lines of thinking than to do cogitate whilst exhausting oneself physically.  Meditation and yoga also helped.  Therapy was not so much an active help than a means to witness my own transformation.  But perhaps most of all, it was Ayahuasca that helped me switch from the overwhelming desire to be female, to come out as trans, to the conviction that I already am trans, already am trans-female, that she is me, and that she has always been there, 100% inside of me, just waiting for her moment to shine.

In other words, how people perceive us is rooted in how we perceive ourselves.  I may be naïve to think that everyone is going to be supportive, but I have spent time now in “redneck” territory as trans…I use that word with caution to reference a kind of straight, white, working-class, male buddy environment that is frequently fingered as racist, hateful and violent.  Thus far, that has not been my experience.  The opposite.  They have either engaged with me as if nothing was at all different, or they have been gallant towards me.  And I mean in my line of work, which is large-scale construction.  Out and about.  Okay, I didn’t do it in Texas.  I don’t want to die at the hands of some stranger.  And I do have to be careful—I know that.

What I am saying is that by just being me, I will own this space for myself.  I will not give them room to be a bigot. That’s a gift for them as much as for me, because if we can nip it in the bud, then all will be well.  And while I much prefer to be invisible, much prefer to just slip by and to never stick my head above the parapet, I realise that I must.  And for my trans sisters and brothers, I have a duty to do so.  There is no shame in this.  There is only joy.  And despite the nasty political tide, I will stand up and be counted, and by doing so, will hope that anyone else can find room to breathe.  For that’s all we need.

We can complicate this basic storyline by referencing participation in sports, by bathroom use, by whatever else.  There are solutions to these problems.  That’s for another day.  What matters today, is that all of these “issues” are noise for the discomfort of the sender, are distractions, ways to legitimise bigotry.

The bathroom issue

I will obey the law.  In my transition, as there is for all of us, there will be a time when I have crossed the line utterly and completely.  For me, that is after a sex change operation.  There is no way that I will use the men’s room after that step.  There may be a time before or during that process when I can change my documents, as I know that even with that step taken there may come a time when I am ‘carded’ (asked to show ID) to confirm that I am not a man invading a woman’s space.  In a way, it would be easier if I were gay, so I could say that ‘I don’t even like women sexually’ but that is not the case, and so the ‘lesbian’ in me fits into the category of someone who could be mis-classed as a predatory man.  How gross, given how dedicated my life has been to never be that way, taking so many formal and informal steps to ensuring that I am not.

And for the time being, I get a ‘kick’ out of standing at a urinal and hitching up my skirt for a pee…it is appropriately challenging, though I am not sure I would feel the same doing so at a truckstop somewhere in rural USA.

There are no perfect answers.  Perhaps I will have the good fortune of ‘passing’ just enough or being welcomed into the sisterhood without hesitation.  Perhaps.  If only.  The other day, I went to the supermarket without taking so much time on my appearance.  I wore a t-shirt and a long sweater, jeans…it was all female, but not overtly so.  I was presenting ‘male’.  Ish.  But the woman at the checkout counter gendered me correctly, and repeatedly.  It was the first time here that this has happened, and it felt great.  D’you know what it was?  The incontrovertible fact of my breasts.  They are ever so slightly pushing out of A cup range and into B cup range, and are a beautiful fact for anyone to see.  Indeed, when I walk around, it is as if that is the only thing that anyone sees.  Men at least.

Ladies, is this what it is like?  Men don’t see anything at all of me other than my boobs?  Is this possible?  In my case it is boobs, double take, surprise, controlled surprise, boobs…the eye movements are predictable and hilarious.

And lying in bed recently with an absolutely gorgeous woman who was fondling my breasts, she remarked, ‘wow, they’re so cute, they’re just like mine, look,’ and she was right, and it was so wonderful to just be with her in a state of gentle touch and exploration.  My breasts are beautiful, and apparently are coming to the rescue in the world of gender signifiers.  And to think that was the part that I most feared about transition.  False alarm.  Source of joy.

Separately, I have noticed that some men just stare at me, nakedly, openly, totally slack-jawed, forgetting even where they are, lost in reverie. They might be with their wives in the supermarket, and no, I am not interested in them, and when she takes a resigned look from husband to me, to my chest, and then back, I can tell she knows I am not interested and is just so bored with hubby, so I am too.

Happy Orthodox Easter Sunday.

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