Les, after hours of thinking and writing, I posted the following on Facebook.
I wanted to write something on Transgender Day of Visibility on Friday but missed it. I’m posting now because I wanted to last year but wasn’t yet out to some of the people I really needed to be.
I wish I’d had the words for being neither a boy or girl as a kid. Because I never learned it was a thing, I didn’t know that I wasn’t a girl. I just knew that I was frustrated with the different options and rights for boys and girls, and felt an overwhelming urge to defy gender norms, and be myself. Sometimes I wish there’d been books, fiction and otherwise, featuring characters whose relationships with gender matched my own or otherwise ignited me. I read a lot of LGBT literature in middle school and high school, but didn’t linger on the few transgender characters I stumbled across, mostly because binary transitions (FTM or MTF) weren’t relevant to me. I still haven’t read a book or watched a movie with a character I truly identify with in terms of gender.
Can you imagine that?
With a personal history of vocal feminism (forever this) but also comfort with being called girl, sometimes I feel self-conscious about my past. I feel afraid that because I was comfortable being “girl-ed” in the past, people will disbelieve my nonbinary identity. But this is a fundamental truth: regardless of my education, I was just as nonbinary and genderqueer as my 5 year-old self twirling in dresses or pestering my mom for things to carry in my pockets as I was in 6th grade when people asked if I was a boy every week. Or, didn’t ask—just called me a boy, or wondered what I was in not-so-quiet whispers to their parents or friends in 8th grade.
I could tell you that at no point in my life have I been any less or more nonbinary than I am now, but honestly, there is a time seared into me: because of the ways it made me feel out of place in the world and my skin, the night I was crowned Homecoming queen in high school is the queerest and most transgender I have ever felt. Being queer and trans is never a problem, but feeling like there is no space for you to exist as you truly are is.
We get an inadequate education on gender and sexuality in schools and the media. The best education is everyday life but often it doesn’t feel like it’s easy or right or safe to ask questions or say to someone: neither girl or boy feels right to me, or sometimes my body doesn’t match how I feel on the inside, or I like my body but it makes people assume things about who I am that just aren’t true.
Or: I don’t see myself growing older in this society as it or I currently am.
And that last one is something we really need people feeling comfortable sharing. We need changes so that everyone, regardless of their gender, can live open and comfortably. We need a society with an emphasis on respect, inclusivity, and dignity. We need more conversations about the limitations of the gender binary system of man and woman, and the society that is structured around it. A binary system transgender people are reminded of daily on survey forms, in department stores, when we need to pee, join a soccer league, or are being Sir-ed or Ma’am’ed on the phone.
From a young age, we don’t get many discussion on the either or the neither or the both or the whattheheck of gender. It’s assumed that we are what was written on our birth certificates when we were born.
We aren’t given many safe spaces to ask and learn about gender and sexuality, regardless of what’s in our hearts or between our legs or who invites butterflies into our stomachs.
Because I grew up around families that didn’t match my own, and because I had parents who let me wear what I want, and let me chop off my hair even when they weren’t thrilled, I got to learn and grow and feel better about myself sooner than some. I got to like different things at different times and mostly not feel ashamed. Some shame, of course. That shouldn’t be an of course.
Because of some advances in education and policies, and sheer need to live authentically, more people are coming out as trans. Thanks to beautiful and brave humans like Laverne Cox and Parinya Charoenphol, there are are more openly famous transgender people. More, even, than when I was a kid. But we still have progress to make, everywhere.
There are about as many experiences with gender as there are people in the world. My trans, my nonbinary, is nobody else’s. One transgender identity isn’t representative of all, and I think that’s important to note. We need many representations of trans individuals in literature, film, and the public and private sector. We need people feeling safe, comfortable, and proud to be themselves without hiding or lying or avoiding the careers or people or sports they really want in their life. We need visibility and inclusivity as a habit and rule, not the exception.
Here’s to visibility.