"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you; If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." -Gnostic Gospel of Thomas
E-RYT 200, RYT 500, YACEP, RCYT
ACE Personal Trainer
Certified Plant-based Holistic Nutritionist
Got a few questions about what it means to be Transgender?
Glad you are here.
Let's start with the basics.
I am a transgender man. Wait, what? Huh? Let's start at the beginning.
Whoah. Transgender? What?
Simply put, if someone is transgender, then the sex they were assigned at birth does not align with the gender that they are. I'm going to waaaaaaay oversimplify here but, basically your sex was (probably) assigned to you at birth as Male, Female, or Intersex, based on the physical appearance of your genitalia. When I was born, the doctor took one look at me and decided I was female ("assigned female at birth", or AFAB for short). But the way I feel on the inside, my gender, isn't female, its male. When someone's gender and sex don't align (like for me), they are transgender.
Wait. I'm confused. People are either male or female. It's science. You either have XX or XY, and that makes you female or male. period.
Nope, wrong. Sorry. I know our 5th grade science teachers taught us XX makes women and XY makes men, but it's TOTALLY not that simple; there is a ton of variation (even if you only want to talk chromosomes). And thats not how doctors determine your sex anyway. No one checks your chromosomes when you are born. They almost exclusively look at genitalia, which also, by the way, come in a huge variety. If your genitalia are ambiguous (and they sometimes are) they can be measured to see which box you fit into, you might be labelled intersex, or you might have your genitalia surgically altered (!!) at birth to fit what people think is "normal".
So, how did you know you were a man?
I tried the girl thing for a long time, and it didn't work.
For real, it was like wearing clothes that were too tight. I tried to make them work, for a long time. But after a while, it started to ache, and once I realized there is something that actually fits, so much better, then there was no going back. I hate to use clothing as the analogy, because being transgender isn't about what you wear (although it can help make you feel a little bit better sometimes...), but I don't really know how to explain it.
In popular media we are presented with a very tidy narrative of a transgender experience where the person "just knew" their whole life, and "felt trapped" in their body, etc etc etc. That's true for lots of transgender people but that wasn't my experience. I had body issues... but I chalked it up to other things. I had gender/sexuality issues...but I chalked it up to other things. I was a tomboy, yes, but lots of little girls are and that doesn't mean they are transgender. Our society is heavily misogynistic and values men much more than women, so lots of women take on traditional male traits and clothing and things for all sorts of reasons. I never thought about it past that. I can go back over my childhood and find a million things that point to this, but I can also find a million little girls who did the same thing and they aren't transmen.
I didn't figure this out until I was in my late 30s. I had to be in a place where I was really open to loving and accepting myself when I began to understand who I really am. Even then, as it became more and more clear, I struggled with it, fought it, questioned it, beat myself up. I didn't consider myself transphobic, but now I think did have some internalized transphobia, and also in our society there's the constant pressure of what other people think about us, how we look to the outside world...
First I identified as neither male or female, as nonbinary. And I really struggled with that for a while. Figuring out what that meant. As soon as I allowed myself to let go of the label "female", I felt like I had opened a window and so many things were more clear, but it also began to slowly sink in that I wasn't just "gender neutral" either.... When I began to present as more androgynous and get seen by strangers as male and not female, thats when it really started to become clear to me who I was. It's much longer and more complicated than this, but to make a long story short(er) basically, after that, the more masculine I presented, and the more successful I was in passing as male in public, the more "right" I felt. Looking in the mirror, I felt like I could actually really see myself, for the first time. I could see a man looking back, and now its just about pushing away the dust, making the outside completely match that inside. I think of it like those sculptors, like Michelangelo, who said the statues were already in the rocks, they just had to clear the marble away... I'm just clearing the rock away to uncover whats already there.
What about Miss/Mrs/Mr/Mx?
What does your family call you?
I've asked them to please not use gendered terms.
I understand it's hard on people, after 38 years, not to say "sister", or "daughter", but I'm hopeful that their language will change over time. I'm OK with a neutral words- "spouse", "child", "sibling", but I prefer "son", "brother", "husband"... etc.
My little nieces and nephews call me "Auntle Alex" (like "aunt" plus "uncle") which I think is the cutest thing I've ever heard in my life, ever.
What do your kids call you?
I get asked this ALL THE TIME. I think this is the number one most asked question. My kids got together and decided on their own to come up with a name, that wasn't "dad" (they already have a "dad"- my husband), and they chose "Abba", which means Dad in Hebrew. But, honestly, they forget a lot, and call me mom. They are GREAT with getting my pronoun right, but "mom" is really hard for them to get rid of and I'm not pushing them on it. They get a free pass; because they are my kids:)
What bathroom do you use?
Honestly, unless I can find a gender neutral one, I try not to use the restroom in public. Going into the women's room seems completely inappropriate (cuz I'm a guy, duh), and going into the men's room feels unsafe (because even though I pass about 75% of the time -until I start talking, then I pass 0%- I don't feel safe risking it, at all.)
OK. So, I should call you a HE now? But I've know you for years! Thats going to be hard.
Yes, and maybe you'll make a few mistakes. But, you can do it. We can do it. When people get married we memorize their new last name. When we get a dog, we memorize the dog's "gender". We can change our habits. We can do this!
And, as Schuyler Bailer (trans athlete and advocate) says on his website, "just because a task is hard doesn't mean you shouldn't do it." Also go check out Schuyler's webpage on pronouns for some awesome tips on how to practice using a new pronoun for someone.
If you are cisgender (meaning the sex you were assigned at birth matches the gender you feel that you are), then chances are maybe you haven't spent a ton of time thinking about your gender, so this might not seem like such a big deal. But trans* people think about it ALLTHE TIME. Constantly. In every interaction, with every choice, they think about it. Our culture has gender so deeply ingrained into it that we don't even notice it. You might think those little pronoun mistakes don't matter, but they MATTER, they add up. They're like little cuts that get deeper and deeper and deeper. So please try, just try, and if you make a mistake, just apologize and move on. Being seen, and recognized, for who you really are- having people look at you and see who you REALLY ARE- that is, I will truly tell you- THE BEST FEELING. For months, when I first came out, anytime anyone got my gender correct (called me "sir", or referred to me as "him" or "handsome" in passing) it stuck with me for days- literally that person made me feel good for DAYS. Be that person.
But you look like a girl at work!
From TransEtiquette101- "Do not assume that just because you know us in one way, that we are able to, or choose to, live that way in every other part of our lives. Some of us express our gender in different ways in different parts of our lives. For example, we may not be able to find work as the gender we truly are. Or we may only find peace by living some of the time in a more masculine gender and some of the time as more feminine." TO "PASS" *(i e , be read as, or look like) a man, I have to flatten my chest. This is done by wearing what is called a "Binder". This is exactly what it sounds like; it binds my female chest. I wear it every day, EXCEPT, when I am at work, because I work in a gym. It is not safe to wear a binder while working out- to my ribs, my ability to breathe, and to my ability to sweat properly. The fitness industry expects form-fitting clothes that show off the body, which, combined with my female body parts, make it hard for me to look as 'male' at work as I do the rest of the time. My body "gives me away".
So, please, pause before you judge, or make any assumptions about transgender people. It is hard to live in a world that expects you to be a thing that you aren't.
And, also.... this is just my situation. There are a million other scenarios and reasons - family, cost, etc etc etc.. why trans* people might present in a variety of ways.
Are you going to transition?
First. Let's get one thing clear. I am a man. No amount of transition makes me a man. I am a man and always have been one. A penis doesn't make me one, testosterone doesn't make me one. Transition doesn't make me a man. Any and all of these just make my body look more stereotypically/culturally male.
Transition can mean LOTS of things. Someone can transition socially, medically (hormonal replacement therapy), surgically, and/or legally (think name changes and birth certificates). Transition, especially medical and surgical, can take months or years. It does not happen overnight. No type of transition is easy, or simple.
I began socially transitioning first, by presenting and living full time as male. First at home, then to my extended family, then out in public, then finally at my job. My job was the last place I socially transitioned, because I work in a gym and it was really intimidating for me.
I began medical transition in October of 2019.
Regarding other types of transition- As it was said in this article on MarketWatch , asking about a transgender person's surgical status is "essentially asking them to describe their genitals to you". Yeah... its super personal. I know it seems like a natural question but it's really personal. There are lots of surgeries that can be done to make outside appearances match the inside gender feeling. Facial contouring, implants, hysterectomies, etc... The decision to do these things is incredibly unique to each transgender person and many things go into making these decisions.
It's important to remember that the decision to transition in ANY way is completely personal and unique to every trans person. Everyone has their own path. Some transgender people choose to transition in medical ways and some do not. Passing (being read correctly as the gender that they are) is very important to some people, and not to others. It's also really important to understand that transition doesn't happen with one operation so please don't ask if we've had or are having "the surgery**". There are many ways of transitioning, medical, surgical, and social, and legal, and all of them are incredibly personal choices.
**Are you going to/have you had "the surgery"?*
I don't always know what people mean when they ask me this. Sometimes they clarify and say "gender reassignment surgery". This term is misleading. There is no "single surgery" that "reassigns" someones gender. There are many surgeries one can have to change their physical body. There is no "one fix".
**If, god forbid, you are asking about "bottom surgery" (yes, people do, and have, and continue to ask me this)... don't. Just don't. Seriously. Unless you are a doctor or a sexual partner, there is really no reason AT ALL for you to need to know this. I know you probably think it's just a harmless question. But this type of question reduces trans people to our genitalia AND it reduces gender to genitalia AND, when you think about it- is also just super creepy, intrusive, and weird. Its not harmless- Its really private (come on- its literally genitalia!!!!) and you are not the first or last person to ask. If a ciswoman lost her breasts to cancer she would still be a woman. If a cis man lost his testicles in an accident he would still be a man. Body parts don't make you a man or a woman. Your gender identity does.
Also.... I can't talk about transition with mentioning that although transition is never easy and never simple, it has been, I think, "easier" for me, than for most transwomen (people who were assigned male at birth but are actually women). There is real privilege here that is important to talk about. I'm white. I'm able bodied. I'm (relatively) thin. Men's clothes are neutral, so even if I don't "pass", people just assume I'm a woman in mens clothing, which no one generally cares about at all. BUT- if they see what they think is a "man" in "women's clothes", people tend to think this is, at best, if they are open-minded, "gender nonconforming", but usually - they think its "weird", "freakish", or "disgusting". Think about this for a second. Also, I can not ignore how this misogyny intersects with my privilege as a white, thin, able-bodied, financially-stable man. All of this can make it MUCH easier for me to go through this than, for example, a black transwoman. Our society values men differently than women, values thin, wealthy, white, able-bodies more than just about everything else, and that needs to be addressed and fixed by all of us, but ESPECIALLY it needs to be addressed and fixed by those of us who are benefitting from it. Those of us who benefit from the system need to be the ones to do the work to fix it.
I just got used to using "they/them" for you and now I have to call you "he"? What??!
Yup. Sometimes life works that way. To be completely cliche, it's a journey. We don't always know what something is going to look like when we get started. We don't know where we are going to end up. Sometimes people need a stepping stone while they are figuring out their gender, or their sexuality. This is valid, and OK. It's OK to be figuring out who you are. It's OK to realize that who you are has changed over time, or that your understanding of who you are has changed over time. I am grateful and glad that I don't think about myself or other things the same way I did when I was 20. That's a GOOD thing. We should be critically thinking about things all the time. We should question things. Our thoughts should be changing and fluid. We have to allow space for that. It's messy sometimes, yes, but sometimes you find good things when you sort through a mess.
But I referred to you as a "she/they" and you didn't correct me!
Quoting Transtorah - "For myself, even though I hate being called “she,” if someone refers to me that way, I might or might not correct them depending on many variables: whether I’m going to have to see them again, how confident I feel, who I’m with, how much backup I have, etc. " I have said this quote almost word for word. Sometimes correcting someone who doesn't know means I have to out myself to them AND the 5 other people standing around. And that puts me in a really awkward position and also means finding out just how OK those people are with transgender people . And sometimes it means doing this at work- which is incredibly intimidating. And potentially dangerous. But I DO want people to know me. I also want to keep it light and not annoy people. I don't mind correcting people, and I absolutely don't mind mistakes, but there's a difference between people who I correct every once in a while because they slip up, and people who "know" but NEVER get it right. That type of correction is really hard, especially when they use the wrong pronoun over and over. I honestly don't know the right way to correct people sometimes, so then I just stop doing it, because I don't want to make THEM uncomfortable, and then I just leave feeling beat up and deflated.
If I am in a space where correction is appropriate and safe, I am so grateful when my spouse or kids jump in with a correction- it takes the weight off of me and puts me in a less vulnerable position. If you know the pronoun(s) someone uses publicly, you can ask them privately if they are ok with you correcting other people if you overhear mistakes. I know I, personally, would LOVE to have someone else on my side.
And remember, not all people are out with their pronouns/gender in all parts of their life (for lots of reasons), so make sure to get their OK first!
Also, know, if you are reading this-
Thank you. Really.
And, you have my permission and my wish that you
a) use my correct pronoun/gender in ANY and ALL spaces and
b) correct anyone who does not use the correct pronoun for me,
if it feels safe to you to do so.
REMEMBER, always, OM MANI PADME HUM...Compassion and Wisdom....
Lead with your heart, always seek to learn. and you will probably end up in the right place.