Existing in Relation to Others

published on May 16, 2022


“Why did you decide to become trans?”

If I had a dollar for every time I have been asked “Can I ask you a personal question” I would have enough to pay for a full month’s worth of transition care (and let me tell you, that shit is expensive).

These personal questions can generally be lumped into three broad categories:

  1. Tell me about your genitals.
  2. How did your kids take it? (no lie, I get this question a lot)
  3. When did you know? / Why did you choose to be trans?

I get asked these questions so often by strangers and new acquaintances, I have the answer pinned to my phone’s clipboard. The short version is this: “None of your fucking business”.

I have a short answer saved, correcting the “Why” inquiry, because education is important:

Trans people don't choose to become trans any more than a person chooses to be straight or gay.

Trans people just are trans.

What makes us trans is that our minds, our spirits, our whole sense of self is one gender.

But our body came out different.

At some point, many trans people choose to start living as their authentic selves, rather than the person society forced us to be.

So, I didn't choose to be a woman. I chose to stop pretending to be something else.

Separate from that, I went to a Queer Book Club meeting on Sunday. It’s a cool group, and I’ve never been a part of a queer group before, so it’s nice to be able to relax when talking about various experiences.

We were throwing out ideas for our next book, and two people suggested two different “trans” books, and I had issues with both. I also was unable to come up with a good novel about a trans experience (apart from Gracefully Grayson, which is wonderful but a middle-grade book).

The first suggestion was If I Was Your Girl. I own this book and have read it a couple of times already. It’s a nice story, but (and the author admits this in the postscript) it’s exaggerated past the point of realism in order to tell a particular narrative. Namely, a high school trans girl moves schools (so no one knows her “secret”), she navigates school and a boyfriend trying to keep her “secret”, and then ultimately her “secret” comes to light with the expected traumatic fallout.

The second suggestion was This is How it Always Is, a truly beautiful and heart-felt novel based on the author’s own experience of raising a trans child. Which is a great story to tell. IT IS NOT A TRANS STORY. It’s a story about cis (non-trans) family members dealing with their own struggles around the child’s transness.

What these two contexts share is a truth about what it means to be trans in today’s society: our experiences exist only in juxtaposition to cis people’s perceptions of us.

Every discussion, every article, every TV show or movie or novel is about managing how and when other people see our transness. Whether it’s trying to “pass” (living as your true identity without other people knowing you’re trans), avoiding getting harassed or worse, or the trauma of everyone “finding out”. It’s about whether cis people are comfortable with us in the bathroom, or feel disadvantaged in sports, or thinking you commit “sexual fraud” by trying to date cis people without disclosing our transness.

“Disclosure” is such a huge part of dealing with society that there’s an entire documentary on Netflix called that, and it’s an important watch. Indeed, when I was trying to write my dating profile post-separation, I had a friend tell me that I should clearly indicate that I am trans in it because “If that’s not in the profile, I would wonder what else you’re not telling me.”

Think about that for a moment: the expectation is that cis people have a right to that knowledge. That not “disclosing” that I’m trans is tantamount (or even equivalent to) to lying. Or hiding something shameful, dangerous, or otherwise important for the other person to know up-front. Oddly enough, I’ve never seen a profile where someone says “And I have herpes”.

Indeed, I had to block a Facebook friend — someone I had shared the streets with during the George Floyd & Gastonia protests of 2020 — because he insisted that trans women commit “sexual fraud” when they don’t disclose to potential romantic/sexual partners. He went on to say that men who have murdered trans women because of that were the actual victims, and even told the story about how he almost “choked out a woman” because he somehow mistook her C-section scar for a Gender Confirmation Surgery scar.

Where are the stories about the struggle of choosing to transition, about sloughing off the hardened identities trans people wear as armor to get by before they transition? Where are the narratives about being a person first and trans second, the ordinary day-to-day struggles that are common to all people, just through the lens of a trans person? I yearn for these things. I am exhausted with trying to find movies that aren’t about violence, getting “found out” or accepted despite one’s transness, or just a simple happy romance with a trans character/actor in a lead role.

I keep searching. I need these stories. I need them to help me unpack the cultural immigration and assimilation I’ve experienced. To assure me that the worries, the difficulties, the pain that seems endemic to transitioning is shared by others. To be supported by a shared experience.

I’m sitting here, stuck at what I feel like should be the wrap-up for this little essay, with some appropriate conclusion and a takeaway. But I don’t have one, except to remind you that trans people exist outside of your perception and understanding of them, that there is more to the trans experience that getting beat up or found out, and that trans people have a right to just be. To live and work and play and date and fuck without satisfying your “need” to know anything.

I loved that dream of a girl, the Beautiful Girl, calm and wild as water. I loved her like I loved the Psychic Girl, another paperback myth, because she was a safe girl to love, a fantasy that I could own. When I grew up and began to meet so many different real girls. I met beautiful girls, calm and wild, who had grown up beside trees and pools of water and I hated them instinctively. They hurt my feelings. I had thought these girls were imaginary, but no, they were real, and I could have been one too, and possessed that water-fed grace. I didn’t know who to be mad at for not giving me a river.

—Michelle Tea, "The Chelsea Whistle"

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Abigail Head

Improv nerd, geek girl. She/her.

Theater owner, actor & improviser, writer, filmmaker, minor league humorist, and generally-opinionated scuttlebug.

Lover of the em dash, proponent of the serial comma, and staunch defender of "literally" literally meaning "in the literal sense". 

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