'Is That A Man Or A Woman?'

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I am transsexual. Today, people like myself are under attack in the United States by the Republican Party. Shamefully, innocent children are suffering the first strikes. This is both illogical and outright cruel; here's an excellent and compassionate response from a support group for transgender kids and their families in the UK.

Transgender children were used as the GOP's first line of attack. Transgender adults are clearly next. (EDIT: Since the time this piece was written, Trump has, in fact, tried to ban trans people from the US military.) "Bathroom bills" forcing people like myself to use the restroom of our birth sex (some regardless of surgical status or genitalia) never really went away, and are still regularly kicked around in state legislatures in 2017. (Republicans are, in fact, quite committed to passing these laws: Bathroom bills are actually part of the GOP's platform.)

I am the enemy of today's Republican Party. I am A Transsexual Who Pees. Here, adapted from a long series of tweets on my Twitter, is how that feels. Not to actually pee, of course, but to exist in the world as a transsexual who struggles with "passing" and yet still has to use public facilities.

First, I invite you to read my earlier journal entry, "Vignettes: What it's like to be trans in America". Then, read on.

(Obligatory disclaimer: I am but one person. All transgender experiences differ. This is mine, as a visibly transgender/non-gender-conforming person. I cannot speak for others, but I'd wager large portions of my story are typical.)

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I know that I am not feminine-looking. I know I will never look "normal". That reality makes me deeply depressed. I am not proud of my appearance.

I am definitely proud that I am have survived in a hostile world while being a member of one of the most joked-about and shunned demographics in existence. But I am not "proud" to be trans in and of itself. In our society, it is a mark of shame, a stigma. Nonetheless I remain proud to fight, and proud to survive.

Despite all the brouhaha about "LGBT pride", many of us in the transgender community remain deeply self-loathing, or at the very best self-doubting. How can we not be? We're surrounded by people who were handed the gender they're comfortable with from birth. My sister, on her very worst day, looks more "female" than I do on my best. She can stagger out of bed with no makeup and uncombed hair and nobody will call her "Sir". With me, it's a crapshoot even with the best hair, the best makeup, the best clothes. It's always a crapshoot.

Denied the bodies we want, we have to fight tooth and nail, uphill all the way, and no matter how great a few lucky ones among us may look, even then we're still never seen as "real" women. Only cis women are seen as "real" women. You can "pass" as female 100% of the time, but the instant some people learn you were born with a penis, you become "a man" in their minds, forever. Achieving a more feminine appearance offers some comfort, but there are some things even the most gorgeous appearance will never fix. And some of us can't even achieve a female-normative appearance in the first place. Us unlucky ones, burdened with too-broad shoulders, too-heavy frames, too-large hands and feet, or other generally unwanted characteristics— we can't change those characteristics for any price. They are lifelong curses. They will literally follow us into the grave and beyond, until our testosterone-altered skeletons crumble to dust.

Most of us are incredibly envious of cis (non-trans) women. At the end of the day, 99% of trans women want nothing more than to just have been born as cis girls in the first place. Period. But, of course, we cannot do that. So we make do. Speaking of cis people: For that matter, lots of cis people balk at the very existence of the adjective "cis". They believe they do not need an adjective meaning "not transgender", because they are "normal" and we are not.

We are keenly aware of that perception. It pervades society and haunts our every day. It lowers our self-esteem in constant microaggressions that we continually perpetuate upon our own insecure egos. And still, just to keep going, we keep fighting.

I am not blind or deaf. I see the dirty looks. I hear the giggles and the muttered "is that a man or a woman." They make me want to slice my face off with a razor. When these words meet my ears, I keep putting one foot in front of the other and try not to cry. Generally speaking, these instances render me so incredibly embarrassed that I simply want to hightail it out of the area immediately, to get out of the paths of the staring eyes burning a hole into my back. The old line about "sticks and stones" is fraudulent. Words CAN hurt.

Cis people often see women like myself as "men in dresses". I never WANTED to be "a man". It just took me too long to figure out that I was a woman. By that point, my body was irreparably damaged by testosterone. So, I made a difficult choice. I "chose" to transition. I did not "choose" to be trans. My "choice" was "transition and be somewhat happier, or don't & probably end up committing suicide." That is the "lifestyle choice" we are always accused of making. Neither path is easy.

Us trans women are the butts of cis peoples' jokes, the walking punchlines, the scary bearded boogeymen supposedly stalking your little girls. And while, yes, many of us look odd, and sometimes kind of scary, we are not monsters. We are people. We didn't choose to look weird; rather, we chose the least-worst path in a choice which had no "perfect" answer. Looking weird was an unavoidable price some of us had to pay. But we're still human beings. "Trans" is an adjective; "person" (and, in my case, "woman") is the noun that adjective modifies.

I am sorry if I make you feel nervous in the ladies' room. I can't help being 5'11". I can't help my broad shoulders. I would if I could. We all, by and large, would if we could. Nobody wants to be Frankenstein's Monster. It's just that some of us wanted to be absolutely miserable or dead even less than that.

We are not, contrary to popular opinion, boldly striding into women's rooms to invade and molest and commit other crimes. We're just trying to void our bodily wastes and try to avoid problems. I do my best to disappear into the woodwork in restrooms. I don't want to be seen; most of us don't. I'll sneak in, pee, and rush out. I am afraid. While I don't want to attack cis people, quite a lot of cis people would happily attack me if they spotted me. If they noticed my shoulders, or my brow, or my facial stubble, I can be harassed in an instant. That is an everpresent danger, and it is never far from my mind. The constant danger drains me of energy every time I leave home.

I KNOW that a lot of cis people believe that trans people are a threat to their children. (We aren't.) So I deliberately AVOID children; I walk far away from them. I fear their parents' staring eyes. I take circuitous paths and often walk many paces out of my way to avoid coming anywhere near a stroller. 

Leaving the house every day is a new opportunity for abuse. Founding BronyCon, a SOCIAL event, was nothing short of a miracle. The daily reality is that I'm a hermit, partially because I am trans. Most of my days are spent working from home; it's less painful that way. I avoid leaving the home because every interaction with another person is a chance to be misgendered, insulted, or worse. Cops, by the way, also love to arrest transgender women on sight, often assuming we are sex workers. And you don't even want to know what they've been known to do to trans women in police custody. So how do I minimise the likelihood of being arrested simply for Existing While Trans? I deliberately dress down. Dark colours, boring unflattering jeans. I try to stride in the shadows and avoid peoples' gazes. Every day. This takes an emotional and even physical toll, year after year.

On the Internet, I will sometimes gleefully mock my own appearance to make it less likely for others to do it to me. To pretend to not care. But of course I care. It HURTS. All of this hurts. I put on a good show of strength most of the time, but inside my armoured shell I am quite easily wounded. Many of us are. One innocent "Sir" or "he" can ruin an entire afternoon.

Cis people: I am sorry that my gender-incongruous appearance startles and confuses you. I'm sorry that you don't understand me. I'm sorry I was born with XY chromosomes. I hate it; I hate all of this. I wish I'd been born right in the first place, but none of us have the power to change the past.

But also, I am a human being. I will not stop existing. I do what I can to make myself less jarring to cis eyes, but in the end I owe you nothing. I hide in my long hair, and I cake makeup over my jawline, and I do what I can to minimise the shocking nature of my appearance. I TRY. But I don't OWE you anything. I don't owe you conformity to any sort of feminine beauty standard; it's not your body. Even if I grew a full beard, I'd still be a woman— because I am not my face, or my height, or my chromosomes.

I am— you are— we all are— our minds, our brains, what religious types would call our "spirits" or "souls". The human brain is the most remarkably complex entity known to our civilisation; it's almost invariably smart enough to suss out its own gender. I know who I am, and I am no man. I'll spare you the links to the medical research, but there's a reason why medical organisations generally affirm transgender identities (or at least give lip service to such affirmations). Being transgender is not a "delusion". It's the brain knowing its own wiring. It's the person inside the brain knowing what flavour of person it is.

And, given that I am no man, I have adjusted to life in a way that balances my own fears & those of the often ogling, staring, judging cisgender public. You can pass laws against my identity, but you cannot change it. You can hurt my feelings, but you cannot alter my fundamental identity.

Being trans cannot be "erased", prayed away, electroshocked, hormone-therapied, antidepressanted, or in any other way magicked or scienced out of being. You could shave my head and take away my razors and makeup, you could even forcibly graft a new penis onto me. You could have doctors inject me against my will with testosterone, cut off my breasts, stuff me into an ill-fitting suit. And yet still, after all of this barbarity, I would still not be "not trans", nor would I be any more of "a man" or any less of "a woman". The body is window-dressing; the mind is the window itself.

There's a reason that the old cliché about being trans is being "a [y] trapped in an [x] body". I am trapped in this ugly 5'11" frame of meat and bone. I cannot change that. Specifically, I say that "I" am trapped because, again, I am my mind, my brain. My body & my chromosomes do not define my gender. Only my mind does, or can.

At the end of the day, neither of us can change me being trans. I don't even want to be trans; I'd much rather have been born a cis female. But in the end, the best I can do is learn to cope with the pain better, and the best you can do is learn to accept me.


Recommended further reading:
"Vignettes: What it's like to be trans in America"
A lengthy tweet chain by @transscribe about her traumatic childhood as a closeted trans girl
A tweet chain from me on what it feels like, as a trans woman, to be misgendered.

© 2017 - 2021 purpletinker
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Jem-Starr's avatar
Honestly, I had an outstanding teacher that looked just like you.  She was generous to her community, an activist, and challenged us to look at the world from all sides.  She passed away a few years ago from cancer, and I think the world is a little less without her around.  Because I've seen women of all looks, shapes, and sizes, there was no question that you are a woman.  I'm here for you.  <3
purpletinker's avatar
I'm on your side.  You say you're not proud of your appearance.  Truthfully, the last time I saw you, I felt there were A LOT of things you could do to change your appearance to make it more feminine to the point where you would be proud of your appearance.  I won't mention them here at risk of offending, but they are things that are talked about non-stop on transgender forums.

The last time I saw you, I just got the impression you didn't care what you looked like and purposefully didn't put in any effort to try and conform with either gender.  But reading this, it does seem you do care to an extent, and I'm telling you that with effort, you CAN change things to make it to the point where you are proud of your appearance.  I think it's definitely doable.  Yes, you'll have to put in a lot of effort, but don't give up.  Don't live the rest your life not being proud of your appearance.  You can change this.
purpletinker's avatar
Yes, and I'm going to start putting more effort towards improving my appearance. At the end of the day, though, I shouldn't have to. I don't owe anyone being "pretty".
I created an account here just to be able to comment. Thank you for this beautiful and wrenching piece, this glimpse into your lived experience. I cried, I shouted a bit, and I read the whole thing with deep respect for your lifelong fight, and your brutal honesty here. What you are saying mirrors what I've heard from gender nonconforming friends, who experience, daily, the reality that there are powerful people and average citizens who simply don't want them to be true. I'm so sorry that's the reality. I will share this as widely as I can, and I hope it changes some hearts. I was brought up being taught that if you're not loving past your comfort zone, you need to keep going. I hope this piece helps some people get there. Keep going, sis.
Thank you for expressing the truth: that fundamental identity is determined internally, by the person it is internal to. And it is for that person, first, that the truth must be known. Then it can go to those willing to hear that truth.

The problem is not in your knowing, your identity, or your truth. It is in the people who are not willing to hear it. Ultimately, the inability to hear another person's truth says more about the non-hearer, not the owner of the truth. 

Anyone who thinks their truth about you is more true than your truth about you is not being honest with themselves. If dishonesty were painful - more painful than what you deal with - maybe they would wake up and live. Acceptance is good but it's only a first step to a full-hearted life.
purpletinker's avatar
<3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
brongaar's avatar
You are a PurpleTinker, if you present yourself as female I'll respect you that way.
purpletinker's avatar
Not sure what you're saying here. That statement is a little vague.
brongaar's avatar
Eeyup, you are you. I do accept you as you are.
purpletinker's avatar
Legokid's avatar
Historically, the GOP is the party of Lincoln.  But ideologically, they are more like the party of Hitler.
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