Category Archives: Trans life

Are Trans People Easily Offended?

Trans people have a reputation for being fierce social justice advocates to the point where there exists a stereotype of an “angry” trans person, especially an “angry” or “crazy” trans woman who takes offense at the slightest thing. For example, trans people are very nitpicky about language. If a news article describes a trans woman as being “born a boy” trans people are quick to point out the proper terminology is “assigned male at birth”. Examples like this can be multiplied. The point is that trans people often get offended over what cis people deem to be relatively “trivial” things particularly with respect to linguistic decisions.

A few things. First, every trans person is different. Some might not care about slight linguistic choices. Others care a lot. Second, it’s not up to cis people to determine what’s offensive or not. If a trans person takes offense at something a cis person deems as “minor” it is probably the case that the cis person fails to put themselves into the shoes of the trans person who is being hurt/offended.

A good example of this is misgendering. It’s really difficult for cis people to understand how much it hurts to be misgendered. Cis people might just say “get over it” or “it was just an innocent mistake” or “I am trying”. But to the trans person, these small acts are deeply personal. The wrong pronoun really stings. Or getting deadnamed. And perhaps the cis people making the mistake are not directly at fault for such slip-ups, but instead of being defensive they should be open to the idea that their slip-ups can really hurt.

Furthermore, I would say that trans people often have a good vantage point to see where some things deemed “minor” are actually the effect of a deeply transphobic society. Most cis people cannot see transphobia or cis-sexism because they are so steeped in it – like the old joke about fish not knowing what water is. When society has unconsciously made trans women the butt of jokes everywhere it’s easy to just say “oh those trannies are getting huffy about an innocent joke again” or “can’t you take a joke”? Another example is the t-word “tranny”. Trans people are allowed to reclaim this word but cis people have no right to it. Yet cis people feel it should be theirs to use, especially cis gay men like Ru Paul who feel his drag world credentials make it permissible to use the t-slur. Ru Paul has no right to that word for the same reason white people have no right to the n-word.

Words have power. Cis people need to understand that the words we use reflect our underlying metaphysical assumptions. Saying a trans woman was “born a boy” instead of “assigned male” helps reinforce the idea that a trans woman is “really” a boy who grew up to play dress up. By stepping up and calling out problematic linguistic usage trans people are desperately trying to re-take language for themselves, for language to be inclusive and validating. This is why we are often such fierce protectors of the language the trans community has developed over decades. Battles over language are important because it’s one of the few tools we have to combat rampant cis-sexism. By educating cis people about the importance of language we can hope to make this society more accepting of our existence as trans people.

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Filed under Gender studies, Trans life, Trans studies

Embracing Ambiguity

When I get right down to it I am a mixture, a blend of both the masculine and the feminine. I have long hair but a deep voice, smooth skin but an adam’s apple, breasts but facial hair. I wear makeup while my face is androgynous. I wear women’s clothing while being tall and muscular. I am a contradiction. An anomaly. I challenge people’s expectations everyday. Who is this person before you who looks like a woman but sounds like a man? Why does that woman have a prominent adam’s apple? Why are her arms so muscular and her hands so big? Why is her hairline so high?

Like most trans woman, I often feel like passing is everything. We all strive for more of it. More blendability. More stealth. Less ambiguity. More fitting in. Not violating expectations. Safety. Avoiding being misgendered. Fighting social dysphoria. We all strive for it but few trans women ever get to 100% passability. There’s usually something about us that makes us clockable upon closer inspection. For trans women this is often our voices. In my experience few trans women ever achieve 100% passable voices.

So what do we do? We have to cope somehow. Regardless of whether we pass will still have to go out into the world and buy groceries and run errands. We have to strengthen ourselves to accept reality. To accept that we will like never live up perfectly to the cis-normative standard. Maybe one day I will afford to shave my trachea down. Or maybe I will be able to get professional voice therapy one day. But for now I need to come up with practical coping strategies to deal with the fact that I don’t pass 100% and yet I still have to live my life.

One such coping strategy is to embrace ambiguity as a positive ideal, to embrace the idea of confusing people, of challenging people’s expectations of what it means to be a woman. Or going even further, challenging the notion of what it means to be a person in today’s modern society where gender transition is a real phenomenon. Though I would prefer to be gendered correctly and seen as a normal female person I know this is not going to happen all the time. So how do I cope? I have been trying to develop the attitude of (1) not giving a fuck and (2) embracing my androgyny as a positive trait. Some people are actually attracted to androgyny so I tell myself even if I don’t pass 100% it doesn’t make me less attractive or valid. Some people like mixtures, blends. They enjoy the fact that my body is a contradiction. A field upon which competing elements battle. This knowledge of my body being ideal to some people is a great comfort because when I get into relationship it helps dispel my fear that they’re just going to abandon me for a more attractive cis partner.

Many men are attracted to trans women specifically because of their trans status. In the community these men are called “chasers”. But I have never liked that term because it erases the possibility of a category of people who are specifically attracted to trans people without that attraction being fetishistic, objectifying, or problematic. I call these people “trans amorous”. And it’s not just men. Cis women can be trans attracted as well. But I think women are socialized to be more polite about it whereas men are overly blunt.

My other coping strategy is actually indirect. It’s through relationships and friendships. If I am in a relationship or friendship and that person has only known me as Rachel it really helps battle the dysphoria because I see them unconsciously using “she/her” pronouns because people who know me know those are obviously the most correct pronouns – it’s what is the most natural if you spend time with me. And that’s a good feeling. It says: I see you. I know you. You are valid. Don’t worry about your ambiguity. It’s ok. I like you and see your womanhood as valid. Building up a social circle of people who automatically gender me female has been an important part of my transition. This is why I enjoy hanging out with trans people. They usually have an above-average ability to correctly gender people regardless of what they look like or how they present themselves.

So in a nutshell, my strategy is to embrace ambiguity. To relish in it. Will this strategy completely dispel my dysphoria and social anxiety? No, not really. That’s too much to ask. But it’s a weapon in my arsenal. It’s a useful perspective to keep in mind.

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Filed under My life, Trans life, Transition

Coming out as trans, pan, and poly

Today is National Coming Out Day. There are three things that I have to come out about: being trans, being pansexual, and being poly. The trans thing has long since been a non-issue. My coming out as trans went really smoothly – I did it on FB last Spring and got nothing but love and support and my parents have now accepted me as well. And I am not living stealth at all – I don’t pass well enough for that – so I almost never have to “come out” as trans in real life because people can just tell from interacting with me as soon as I open my mouth. On the internet it’s a bit different but in my online dating profiles I am always upfront and honest about my trans status. So these days I don’t spend much energy thinking about coming out as trans. Sometimes of course I get self-conscious especially when I am hanging out with cis women (I feel like an outsider) but for the most part my gender status has become a non-issue for most of my life (with the exception of the occasional misgendering that happens, which sucks but is not a big deal).

I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly come out as pansexual anywhere but transition changed my sexual orientation such that I would now be willing to date men (before transition I dated exclusively women though I hooked up with some CDs awhile back). I still prefer women largely and I am much pickier with men but I am interested enough to give it a shot.I think this change of orientation is something that happens often to tran women who spent most of their lives pretransition dating women. I almost never see the equivalent though, trans women who date exclusively men prior to transition rarely seem to become bi/pan after transition and start dating women as well – they stick with their original orientation. I think part of this is compulsory hetereosexuality. Living as men trans women might feel reluctance to date men but as transitioned women it’s a lot more acceptable in society – it’s normal for women to be “boy crazy”. Same thing with trans guys – it’s more acceptable to date women than it is men. Some of it might also be the hormones themselves changing deep preferences but my guess is that the change in orientation is more due to social/learning forces than it is changes in neurological function.

And everyone knows, the dating scene for men online is a nightmare. Men are for the most part not very good at online dating and it’s a chore browsing the same boring/short messages like “hi” or “what’s up” or “hey beautiful”. Then there’s the fetishists (chasers). But that’s a whole other post. So far I haven’t found a guy I’m willing to date but hopefully in the near future that will happen.

As for the polyamory, that is the last thing I normally come out about. I am not usually frank with my parents about being poly though part of that is that I am not seriously dating more than one person right now so it hasn’t been an issue. But sometime in the future it’s highly possible I will have two partners and I will have to navigate the politics of coming out. Poly is still taboo in American society. There are all sorts of misconceptions and myths surrounding poly. One myth is that poly relationships are doomed to fail. For one, that’s true of many non-poly relationships too. Second, many people are able to make poly work for them. In my most recent now-ended serious relationship we tried to make poly work after being monogamous for 8 months but it didn’t work out and we have gone our separate ways. But now that I’m free from that relationship I don’t think I am going to allow myself to get into another monogamous relationship anytime soon. I’m just not ready for that kind of commitment right now.

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My Many Privileges

First, I have the privilege of being white. I’m not going to elaborate on this privilege because if you don’t understand how being born white in America is a privilege then you’re probably just a racist bigot who won’t be persuaded by what I write anyway. But I recommend listening to the voices of #blacklivesmatter activists and listening to their stories of discrimination and violence at the hand of the police state as well as the systematic discrimination of white supremacy in the good ole US of A.

Second, I have class privilege insofar as I was born into the working middle class. My parents were never “rich” per se but they worked hard and could always provide food on the table and a roof over our heads as well as enough money for amazing Chistmas’s, birthdays, etc. I had a nintendo and LEGO and bikes and they bought me a car at age 16.I was fortunate to inherit money from my grandmother on my dad’s side. My middle class privilege has provided me numerous opportunities in life. Although I worked hard in school and was “smart”, my socio-economic status helped me get into a decent university while also having my family support me in countless financial ways through my young adulthood.

Part of my socio-economic privilege was that I was able to build up a good credit score which has allowed me to finance my transition, including paying for 8 sessions of laser (~$1,700) as well as buying a whole new wardrobe for all four seasons of St Louis weather (granted, I do shop at goodwill a LOT), buying a shit-ton of makeup, etc. I live a comfortable life for the most part. I have a lot of credit card debt but I managed to spend 11 years in higher-education without racking up any student loan debt.

I feel privilege that I was able to get so much university/graduate education before starting my transition. Some trans people feel like they would have been better off transitioning before puberty or during their teen years. But personally, I am glad I was not out-as-trans during highschool or college. For one, I would literally be a different person. And two, I probably would have faced outright bullying and intolerance. And I was able to use my “male privilege” in order to power my way through grad school without ever having my intelligence second-guessed just because of my sex.

But I can only feel that last one (late transitioning)  as a privilege because my genetics have made it such that when I did start transition, at age 29, after only like 5-6 months of HRT and a few laser sessions under my belt I started passing pretty well and now, 9.5 months on HRT and 8 sessions of laser, I pass probably like 80-90% of the time which is a HUGE privilege. It allows me to blend into society relatively well. My passing privilege allows me to be gendered correctly. To avoid harassment. To avoid danger, violence, insults. I don’t pass perfectly, and I am still clockable – but my genetic luck (and the laser) has made it such that I can go outside the house to run an errand without spending two hours putting on makeup to downplay my masculine features. I am lucky in that I don’t have to perform femininity to the extreme in order to be accepted for the person I am (although I do LOVE makeup and all things feminine and generally identify as a very femme person). But it’s not necessary to my survival. I also started transition with long hair and that helps a lot for avoiding misgendering.

Most trans women are not as privileged as I am. They struggle with suicidal thoughts. With homelessness. Rejection from family and friends. Depression. Anxiety. I don’t deal with any of that.  I haven’t been forced to turn to survival sex work just to pay for my hormones. I managed to get my legal name change ($175 court cost) without too much hassle. I have a good credit score.

I managed to find love and acceptance in my partner. I am happy and engaged. I found true love within the first year of my transition. You know how rare that is? I never take it for granted and count my lucky stars every day.

Sometimes I feel guilty – like survivor’s guilt. I want to make a difference – but who cares what a “stuck up white bitch” like myself has to say? I’ve been told I’m the “epitome of white passing privilege” and that I’m “just like Caitlyn Jenner”. But I still feel like I have important things to say. Important things to write. I want to help my fellow trans folks who are not as fortunate as I am. I want to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice. I never want to talk over people though I’m afraid I do that all the time as part of my privilege.  Please correct me when I’m wrong. I will listen. I’m all ears. I identify as an intersectional feminist. I want to listen to the diverse narratives of trans folks of all stripes so that I can boost their voices.

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Giving Up My Male Privilege

Before I get started, I need to say this post is entirely about *my narrative*. I speak ONLY for myself. This post is not about other trans women – It’s about MY life.

I grew up with male privilege and then I gave it up.

I grew up as a relatively “normal boy”. I never had any struggles with my gender identity until my late 20s. I was homeschooled. As a child I played Legos with my brother, built tree forts, played sports, rode bikes around the neighborhood, swam all day in the summer, played manhunt, collected random things, played videogames, and was generally a pretty normal boy with normal “boyish” predilections.

I loved school and academics. I always did well. I had the privilege of never having my intellectual abilities questioned. I had the privilege of never being discouraged to pursue science and philosophy. I had the privilege of never being defined as a “emotional being” but instead had the privilege of being defined as a “rational being”. I had the privilege of being seen as the “default” – the prototypical person.

I had the privilege of having my hand-eye coordination encouraged and praised. I had the privilege of having the option of not caring about my appearance without having my masculinity challenged. I had the privilege of not worrying about whether I was skinny enough to be attractive. I had the privilege of avoiding the “pink tax”. I had the privilege of playing with all the “cool” toys as a child.

I had the privilege of being able to walk in my neighborhood at night without any fear of being attacked or raped. I had the privilege of never having to worry about my drink being drugged at a party. I had the privilege of not worrying if I was getting too drunk.

I had the privilege to speak up in class and dominate class discussions. I had the privilege to go through grad school in philosophy without people assuming I’m not “cut out” for philosophy, rational thought, or argumentation. I had the privilege of choosing any topic to study even if it did not relate the real world. I had the privilege to speak with authority and not have my intelligence questioned. I had the privilege of mansplaining.

I had the privilege of examples in thought experiments usually being male-gendered and I had the privilege of language being male-centered (”All of mankind”, “all men are created equal”, “mailman”, etc).

I had the privilege of not being interrupted as much when I was speaking.

I had the privilege of my reproductive system not being regulated by the state.

I had the privilege of my “male gaze” being the focus of pornography and I had the privilege of having my objectifications validated by society.  I had the privilege of not ever being sexually harassed or hit on by strangers. I had the privilege of never being cat called.

I had the privilege of reading about history and having almost every story center around men. I had the privilege of most of the protagonists in media being men with positive representation. I had the privilege of not having to deal with the Bechdel Test.

I had the privilege of having almost all elected officials being men. I had the privilege of most research being done on male subjects.

I had the privilege of being able to take up as much space as I wanted.

I had the privilege of not having to worry too much about household chores and cleaning, so-called “women’s work”.

I had the privilege of everyone assuming that my career would take precedence in a relationship.

….

I have given all that up. I no longer have those privileges, or if I do retain some of the privilege, I am slowly losing it. I have lost my male privilege while also gaining the extra problems of transphobia and cis-sexism.I have begun the process of unlearning all socialization I received growing up. I have tried my best to learn more about feminism, women’s rights, and the system of patriarchy that I used to benefit from. I try to be a better listener now, I try not interrupt people as much as I used to. I try not to talk over people like I used to. I try not to dominate discussions in class like I used to. Part of my newfound “quietism” is due to me not liking to use my voice and drawing attention to myself as a trans woman, but it’s also partly due to my recognition that I cannot take my privileges for granted anymore.

I recognize it is highly controversial in the trans community to talk about my having grown up with male privilege. I SPEAK ONLY FOR MYSELF. Other trans women might have had completely different childhoods that didn’t have as many privileges. But it is unquestionable to me that I had certain privileges in virtue of being raised as a boy.

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The Traditional Gatekeeping Model of Trans Healthcare

Starting in 1933 with endocrinologist Christian Hamburger’s treatment of Christine Jorgensen, the triadic combination of psychiatric evaluation, hormones, and surgery became the default protocol for dealing with trans people who desired treatment. Not to mention that transgenderism itself was viewed by the professional community as a medical disorder – an idea that is now losing ground in wake of better knowledge about gender variance across cultures. The most comprehensive contemporary guideline for transgender healthcare is the Standards of Care (SOC) that comes from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health or WPATH. The WPATH guidelines provide a uniform set of standards for treating transgender and gender nonconforming people and have been the definitive source for transition guidelines for decades. When I talk about the “traditional” model of transgender healthcare I am referring to an amalgam of the WPATH guidelines prior to the 7th version( the current version, which came out in 2011), which has changed significantly to conform more towards the Informed Consent model. I’m focusing on the traditional model rather than the 7th version SOC because many healthcare providers across the world are still following the traditional model and using gatekeeping mechanisms to limit access to HRT and Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS).

The first step in the traditional model is months of psychotherapy to evaluate whether the patient is genuinely transgender – often called the “trans enough” question. After this evaluation the patient would be diagnosed with gender identity disorder (GID) or “transsexualism” by a mental health professional.  Until 1998 the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association standards of care stated that “any and all recommendations for sex reassignment surgery and hormone therapy should be made only by clinical behavioral scientists.” (4th ed, 1990, quoted in Whipping Girl)

After getting a diagnosis of GID and starting psychotherapy, the patient would have to begin their “real-life experience test” (RLE) in which they are required to live full-time in their identified sex to experience what it is like living as their identified gender. Only after this real-life test, which could last for up to 1-2 years, would the therapist recommend the patient for hormone replacement therapy or sexual reassignment surgery. The WPATH 6th version recommends 12 months of RLE before irreversible physical treatment is started. The 6th edition WPATH Standards of Care state

“the act of fully adopting a new or evolving gender role or gender presentation in everyday life is known as the real-life experience. The real-life experience is essential to the transition to the gender role that is congruent with the patient’s gender identity. The real-life experience tests the person’s resolve, the capacity to function in the preferred gender, and the adequacy of social, economic, and psychological supports. It assists both the patient and the MHP in their judgments about how to proceed”

The underlying justification for these strenuous requirements was that the clinicians felt they were only trying to protect the trans people from having an “unsuccessful transition”, losing everything, and having deep regrets. As Julia Serano writes,

“Whether unconscious or deliberate, the gatekeepers clearly sought to (1) minimize the number of transsexuals who transitioned, (2) ensure that most people who did transition would not be ‘gender-ambiguous’ in any way, and (3) make certain that those transsexuals who fully transitioned would remain silent about their trans status.” (Whipping Girl)

The effects of gatekeeping in these early days can be seen in the fact that so few people ever got GCS despite the thousands of requests. The John Hopkins program accepted only 24 of the first two thousands requests for GCS.

Passing was considered a prerequisite for transitioning and thus for HRT – this bias still operates today implicitly and explicitly. Furthermore trans people were required to abide by heteronormative ideals such that a trans women should only show attraction to males and trans men only show attraction to females. The same applied to adherence to traditional gender expressions and gender roles, such as a trans women being femme and wearing makeup, heels, skirts, etc., or showing an aversion to “traditional” male activities or interests. Trans women still get turned down for HRT if they show up in jeans and a tshirt because this is evidence they are not “trans enough” or serious enough to begin medical transition.

The Stanford Gender Dysphoria clinic “took on the additional role of ‘grooming clinic’ or ‘charm school’ because, according to the judgment of the staff, the men who presented as wanting to be women did not always ‘behave like’ women…As Norman Fisk remarked, ‘I now admit very candidly that…in the early phases we were avowedly seeking candidates who would have the best chance for success” (Stone, 2006,  p. 227-228)

One of the most historically prominent endocrinologists, Christian Hamburger, was explicit in his recommendation of HRT only for those trans women who were not overly masculine. In discussing recommendations for HRT in trans women he writes:

“The attempts at feminization have better chances of being successsful in patients having a neutral or not pronounced masculine appearance. If the patients have a neutral or not pronounced masculine appearance, if the patient presents a black and vigorous growth of beard, deep voice, excessive hairiness on trunk and limbs, strong muscles and prominent veins, it is unlikely that the estrogen treatment will give a harmonious result. In such extreme cases it may be possibly wise to try to persuade the patient to abstain from any endocrine treatment unless the psychologic disposition makes such persuasion out of the question” (Green & Money, 1969, p. 302)

If a trans woman transitions yet maintains an masculine or androgynous appearance (such as a deep voice) then this would be considered “unharmonious”. This is a highly normative claim and builds a certain stereotype of what is to count as a “successful” transition. Can you be successful if people still read you as trans after your transition? Hamburger’s notion of “harmony” does nothing to address the question of psychological harmony: would going on feminizing hormones relieve dysphoria at all? If so, would not that be beneficial even if the patient was not harmonious with respect to the norms of society? Yet the medical gatekeepers who sought to prevent non-passing trans women from getting on HRT thought they were acting in the best interest of these patients, preventing them from harmful effects in society, post-transition regret, and a feeling of dissatisfaction with the results of HRT, which the doctors thought would leave these patients in a middle-state of ambiguity, neither male nor female and thus not able to fit into society in a functionally adaptive manner.

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How I Cope With Misgendering

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Can Trans Women Learn Anything from Drag Queens?

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