Why I keep records of my transition

I keep a personal Tumblr for notes on my daily experiences while transitioning, as well as timeline photos documenting my physical development. Recently, an anonymous reader asked why I would keep such a history. This is my reply.

Anonymous asked: Wouldn’t most trans people not want to keep records of their transition? I mean, isn’t that like proving “you’re not really a woman, see, here’s an old picture of you” by reliving your transition? If I was trans I would think I wouldn’t want to be reminded that I was once a male.

Personally, speaking solely about my own experiences and feelings, I don’t agree with this at all.

Yes, some or many trans people prefer that their gender history remain firmly in the past. There are a lot of us who just want to get it done and move on without it being brought up, and without being reminded of it. Most of the time, I too would prefer it not be an issue.

It’s not something that needs to come up when I’m buying groceries, meeting other parents when out with the kids, and so on. It can be obnoxious when others try to bring it up in irrelevant contexts. And, yeah, I know a lot of trans people who are pretty averse to seeing their own pretransition photos, or anyone’s – it’s not something they want to be reminded of.

But the presence or absence of photos and records won’t change the reality of my history. The fact is that, for 23 years of my life, I did have a body with male-typical features, and I still have a few of them even after transitioning. Being reminded that I “was once a male”? I call that “looking down”. Photos and records pale in significance next to the experience of living in this body.

I’ve been in it my whole life, through all of its different stages. Trying to erase photos seems futile – more than just photos, I have memories, experiences, feelings. Whether there’s an old photo of me out there or not… I still remember who I was. So having to see old pictures of myself is quite a minor concern – either way, I’ll still have the memories of being that person, which are much more vivid, thorough, and full of emotion than a simple photo.

And I don’t want to forget who I was. That phase of my life is an enormous part of my history. It constitutes the majority of my existence up until now. Yes, there were difficult times, and things I’ve done my best to forget and move on from.

But I don’t feel my life up until now is disposable. This wasn’t some bad dream that I only recently woke up from. It was real, and I can’t deny that. As hard as it might have been, it was not devoid of any value. I was still a human being. I was making the most of my life, just as I am now. And even in those times, there was much worth remembering.

I also have to recognize that, during that time, I did genuinely believe I was male. It may have been an incorrect belief, it may have stemmed from my confusion of the absence of a strongly female identity with the presence of a male identity… but I did believe it.

That’s also a fact of my history, and something that can hardly be erased by deleting a photo. There were many years when I thought of myself as male, presented as male, and didn’t pursue a better option or even realize there was a realistic alternative. That was just who I was at the time. I don’t see any need to shy away from that, or deny it.

More importantly, my personal gender history, whether seen or unseen, doesn’t invalidate my womanhood. It’s completely understandable why many of us keep this to ourselves and don’t tell most people. We still live in a society where “trans woman” is taken to mean “not really a woman” or “actually a man”. We don’t want that knowledge of our history to get in the way of us being seen as who we are now. We don’t want our genders to come with an asterisk attached. We don’t want it to be the first thing people see us as, when they think about us.

But that’s their problem – not mine. Being trans and having a history as “a guy”, and being a woman, should not be incompatible. Being trans doesn’t mean you’re not a woman. I have friends, co-workers, family, my partner, my children, so many people in my life who know that I’m trans, and are still capable of recognizing my womanhood. For them, my transness doesn’t get in the way of my womanhood. It doesn’t preclude my existence as a woman, or diminish it in any way. So what excuse does anyone else have to deny what I am?

Further, I find transitioning to be fascinating from an experiential, philosophical, and scientific perspective. This isn’t something that most people will go through in their lives. It’s also something I’m only going to experience once, and I feel it’s important to make note of every little moment. It’s rare, and fleeting, and extraordinary.

Keep in mind that medical transition, as we now know it, is barely a century old, if that. We’re still at the very beginnings of transition treatment. And there’s often no other way to learn about the current process in detail except by experiencing it firsthand. Most available research has to do with hormone levels and surgery results and complications of treatment. But there’s much less information about the day-to-day mental changes that trans people can experience, or the specifics of how our breasts develop, or simply what it will feel like.

For that reason, I believe documenting my transition can serve as a useful resource for other trans women. When I was first considering whether to start treatment, and then decided I would, I still had very little idea what I was getting into. Yes, there are the broad strokes: you’ll grow breasts, your sex drive will change, you’ll probably feel better…

But that didn’t really answer the question of what it would be like. And now that I’ve been through this myself, I realize that such vague information is like being shown only a single frame of an entire movie. How will my breasts develop? How fast? What will they look like and feel like? How will my sex drive change? How will I adjust to that? Will I like it? How are my moods going to change? Is it really such a big change? Will I be the same person? When it comes to these specific questions, there’s still so little information available. And I believe trans people deserve better. To that end, I’ve tried to explain and describe and capture these things in as much detail and depth as possible, just so the world can have some better sense of what this whole experience is like. Sharing our experiences, and finding points of similarity in our own lives, is incredibly important for trans people. Knowing what to expect, and that someone else out there has been through it, and feels much of the same things you do, is a thing of comfort in what can otherwise be a very uncertain and difficult time.

Most of all, I love that this is happening to me. For me, transitioning has been an experience that’s so extraordinary and affirming and life-changing, I’m thankful every day that this is possible and that it could happen in my life. It’s damn near a miracle that something like this can be done, and all I can do is stare in awe.

I love seeing my body change more and more every day, growing into something that feels like home, even if I’ve never been here before. I love being able to feel things more intensely and deeply than I ever could before, and finally looking out on the world with true happiness, unburdened by any chemical imbalance dragging me down. I love seeing my face turn into something new and unknown and beautiful. I can finally love myself.

When I look back at what I was, I don’t feel it dragging me back. Instead, I see just how far I’ve come. All of this is possible because of the body I once had, the seed for something amazing to grow. All of this is possible because of the person I once was, the one with the courage to survive and figure this out and make it real. I can’t forget that, and I wouldn’t want to.

Sorry About Your Boyfriend, You Transphobic Jerk

This piece was originally published on Thought Catalog.


Dear Anonymous, I’m sorry about everything that happened with you and your boyfriend. Anyone would agree that his betrayal and history of lies were unacceptable. Your raw pain at the discovery of his deception is plain to see, and I know it can’t be easy to find out that the one you loved the most was abusing your trust and looking for others to fool around with.

I can especially relate to your despair at knowing that you wouldn’t ever be able to offer what he was covertly seeking elsewhere — that he wanted the kind of person you could never be. It’s not hard to imagine how crushing it was to realize that the fact of your partner’s desires made any compromise impossible here.

Except if you think that’s difficult, try being a woman with a dick.

‘Cause I do mean a literal dick, not just some lowlife who’s always looking for escorts when you’re out of town. That’s right, I’m “a transsexual” (as they say among your people), just like the trans women your boyfriend was downloading porn of and trying to meet for casual sex.

I can assure you it was an utter delight to see that on the very same day I had written about the unrealistic perceptions of trans women in society, you chose to dehumanize us flagrantly and repeatedly while telling the tale of your boyfriend’s indiscretions. Evidently, chastising him for his callous relationship-destroying behavior wasn’t enough. You needed the extra bit of unique attention that can only come from indulging the public’s ever-present obsession with strange, taboo, scandalous “transsexuals.”

So what started as a relationship problem between two cis people — that means you unlucky folks who don’t get to be trans — ended up as yet another story where women like me are needlessly depicted as barely-human sex objects with gross, incomprehensible bodies. Make no mistake, I know you’re really torn up at how his sexual fixations came between the two of you, and it shows. I get what it’s like to fear that your partner wants a type of body you simply don’t have. As a fully penis-equipped woman, trust me, I know.

Situations like this can be tragic and heartbreaking. That being said: Go fuck yourself.

Certainly your boyfriend chose to be evasive and defensive about his trans porn because he knew this was the particular area in which he was secretly pursuing sex. And maybe he also knew that there was something different about this, something that set it apart from the cis porn of blondes and cheerleaders which you seemingly had no issue with.

Ultimately, he had absorbed all the inconsistent messages from wider society that subtly teach us to see trans women as both fetish objects for the pleasure of men, and as disgusting freakish men who implicitly threaten the heterosexuality of any man who lays eyes on us (let alone constantly downloads porn of us). And he knew that you, too, had received those same messages from our culture, and would see his trans porn habit in that light.

Me, I find it amusing to think that my partner and I would ever start questioning the other’s sexual identity upon finding that they had been looking at (gasp!) cis porn. But in keeping with our world’s continued inability to decide what trans women even are, you took this opportunity to engage in a typically ignorant dissection of our genders, our bodies, and precisely how gay your boyfriend is now.

On that note, let’s get one thing straight: He’s a guy who likes women, such as yourself, the partners he’s had before you, cis women in porn, and also women who are trans. You know what we call a guy who likes women and not men? Sorry to suck all the ill-gotten queerphobic fun out of publicly suggesting he’s a homo, but there’s no need for you to describe him as “otherwise straight.” He’s not straight with a twist of queer — just regular, boring Straight Classic. And he will be until he starts trying to get with other men. There’s a reason he was the “M looking for a T” and not the M looking for an M.

And if the presence of a penis in his porn still gives you pause, take a closer look at the “blondes and cheerleaders” portion of his collection. You might find that the dull cis-only titles you first neglected to scrutinize are in fact home to all manner of massive, erect penises. Thick, hard penises, up close and personal — it’s pretty much a fixture of mainstream porn intended for straight men. No, I don’t really understand it either.

Nevertheless, I’d invite you to think about how shifting said penises to women rather than men could possibly make the porn or its viewers more gay. You might call us “transsexual men,” but if you’re really concerned about his hetero-integrity, I’m pretty sure we’re still preferable to him jerking it to cis men.

By the way, thanks for saying we’re “men.” I’m sure that’ll come as news to my lesbian fiancee, who’d had quite enough of men after the first two decades of her life. While it’s pretty tasteless and tacky of you to try and police how “muscular” a woman can be before she doesn’t “look like” a woman anymore, I’d love to see what you would make of us — the short, skinny chick whose muscles have melted away after a year of high-dose estrogen, and the butch Viking goddess who towers several inches over me and has been known to lift me above her head whenever she feels like it.

What exactly do you think it means to “look like women?” And which of us has the “parts of men” according to your stereotype-addled worldview? Because I don’t think you have the slightest idea. Cis or trans, butch or femme, hulked-out or stick-thin, penis or vagina, we’re all women. So what do women look like? Us.

Yet as you were nearly done excoriating the cheating bastard, you couldn’t resist getting in one final dig at us: your shameless admission to calling us “things.” It’s always nice to be reminded that falling outside the narrow, purist categories of what makes someone a “man” or a “woman” marks me as not even a human being. After all, if you aren’t clearly male or female, you’re just a “thing” lacking any real personhood. Apparently the very substance of what I am places me entirely outside of humankind in your eyes.

And maybe you truly don’t see us as actual people beyond the mythic, sexualized vision of trans women that your boyfriend was obsessed with. But we certainly haven’t made the mistake of thinking of you as little more than a set of naked tits walking around in lucite heels, rather than a whole intelligent person capable of spreading hatred. Meanwhile, you treat us as no more than unnatural, disturbing porn-bodies fit to be called “things”, rather than real people capable of feeling pain.

If you had said this about any other group of people in society just because they happen to be a niche interest in the adult industries — if you had depicted them as insidiously corrupting your boyfriend’s very orientation, questioned whether some aspect of their bodies met your personal standard of womanhood, and concluded that they are more “things” than they are people — this would not be considered suitable for publication in any respectable venue.

But because this is about us, you knew you could get away with that. On the same day you wrote this attack on our humanity, I wrote of my wish that we could have the simple normalcy of being treated like everyday people, even as I recognized this was impossible right now. You’ve proven, yet again, just how far off such a world is for me and my kind. Thanks.

We’re not the ones who are responsible for breaking up your relationship. Still, I’ll give you the same advice your boyfriend should have listened to: Stay the hell away from us.

The Humanity of Private Manning, by Lauren McNamara

It’s been weeks since I testified at the court-martial of Private Bradley Manning, and I still don’t know how to explain to anyone what that experience was like. I don’t even know how to feel about what I saw there.

Everything seemed simple before, and now it’s really not. It used to be easy to take a bird’s-eye view of the entire situation. I saw it as some abstract network of people, events, morals, responsibilities, laws, consequences, past, future, the connections between them, and some process of justice or historical consensus that would resolve all this in favor of one definitive outcome or another. It was easy to talk about what Manning did, debate the ethical and legal character of his actions, and calmly contemplate what should happen next.

That was my attitude going into this – there were facts, they would eventually add up to an answer, and I didn’t need to give much thought to anything beyond that. For me, the facts were simple: I had spoken with Manning online for several months in 2009, after he took an interest in my fledgling YouTube channel, and long before his leaks of classified material. His defense team believed our conversations could show that Manning cared about his country and wanted to protect people, contrary to the government’s assertions that he had recklessly placed America and its troops at risk. And so I was called by the defense to testify about what Manning said to me: that he felt he had a great duty to people, and wanted to make sure everyone made it home to their families.

Flying out to Baltimore was disorienting; I hadn’t been apart from my fiancee and our kids for over a year, and now I was on my own in a city I’d never visited before. Still, I took it in stride and tried to think of it as something that was going to happen, something I’d get through no matter how it went, and then it would be over – the same things I would always tell myself before a dental appointment. As if this were no more than some temporary discomfort or inconvenience to my life. I drew on the same strategy I used when nervous about flying, or transitioning, or coming out to my family: pretending that all of this was completely normal to me. Of course, having to pretend meant that it very much was not, but I tried not to think about that.

“Miss McNamara?” Sgt. Valesko, clean-shaven and wearing a sports jersey, recognized me at the baggage claim and introduced himself. He carried my bags outside, where Sgt. Daley was waiting to drive me to my hotel. I joked about the fact that I was quite literally getting a ride in a black government van. As they showed me some landmarks around the area – Costco, Olive Garden, and a high-security prison – we all got to know each other. Daley told me about growing up in Shreveport, attending a superhero-themed wedding in Seattle, and shattering his wrist in a motorcycle accident; I showed him the thick five-inch surgical scar on my abdomen. They thought it was great. It was surprisingly easy to talk to them – they were very friendly, and it really put me at ease, even when I was still struggling to get a handle on everything that was happening.

I was scheduled to have a meeting with Manning’s defense the next day, before they began making their case on Monday. Sgt. Val – everyone called him that – picked me up from the hotel, as well as Capt. Barclay Keay, another witness for the defense. This was my first time at Fort Meade, and it was a subtly disturbing place to be. While there were some features that made it clear this was a very different world, such as entire lots full of giant beige fuel tanks and warnings of barriers that might erupt from beneath the roads, it took me a moment to realize why it felt so wrong. It wasn’t about what was there, but what was missing: variety. Nothing here was out of place.

Unlike the surrounding town outside the barbed-wire fence, there were no irregular trees or overgrown weeds or strangely curved roads. Vast expanses of empty, perfectly maintained grassy fields separated the base’s buildings, nearly all of which were faced in brownstone and looked like they were built in the 1950s or earlier. There were homes here like those in most suburbs, but even the higher-end “mansions,” which Sgt. Val pointed out were for generals and admirals, were absolutely identical and took up no more space than any other house. What looked like a Walmart was simply titled “COMMISSARY” in plain white letters across the side. A lone Burger King sat atop a hill; I almost expected the logo to read “FOOD.”

We soon arrived at the courthouse where the trial had been taking place, a small bland building that gave no indication it had become a site of any historic events. A series of makeshift hallways fashioned from white tents wrapped around the building, blocking any view of its entrances. Sgt. Val guided me and Keay through the maze both outside and inside the building, and we eventually reached the courtroom itself. No one else was there today, but we didn’t have to wait long before we were approached by Capt. Angel Overgaard of the prosecution, a small woman in a sweatshirt with her hair in a tight bun. I was surprised, as I had been rather specifically informed that this would be a meeting with the defense, and I still have to wonder if this was intended to catch us off-guard.

Overgaard chose to talk to me first, and led me to a small private room to discuss my testimony. Just as the defense had previously spoken with me to work out what I would be talking about at the trial, the prosecution now wanted to figure out what they should ask me during cross-examination. The content wasn’t much of a mystery: the only relevant evidence at hand was my online conversations with Manning, which had already been published in their entirety. But unlike the defense, who worked together with me to establish exactly which questions they would ask and how I would reply, the prosecution couldn’t be quite so open about this. As their goal would be to diminish the significance of my testimony, they needed to retain some element of surprise.

Her questions spanned a wide range of topics, and didn’t seem to suggest any larger picture of what approach the prosecution might take when cross-examining me. Starting with the basics – how Manning first contacted me, how he felt about his job as an intelligence analyst, and what his goals and ambitions were – she then moved on to various details of what we talked about. She asked me to explain what the Python programming language was, as well as information theory, the AES algorithm, “Slashda” (by which she meant Slashdot), and Reddit, which she pronounced “read-it.”

These seemed to me like things the prosecution could learn about from a brief session of Googling, and I suspected this much ignorance was a put-on so they could see how I would personally explain such things. I had a nervous sense that they specifically wanted to know what I would say about it, and I wondered how they intended to use all this. It became even more suspicious when she began asking me what WikiLeaks is, when I had first learned about it, what sort of content is on the site, which of their material I had read, and how I believed the organization functions.

As someone who had only visited the site a few times out of curiosity, and didn’t read very many of the cables simply because they were in all caps, I found it almost amusing that she thought I could explain the nature of WikiLeaks in any useful detail. Still, her tone was friendly throughout, even as she was not-so-subtly digging for any answers that could be turned to the prosecution’s advantage. She didn’t feel there was much more to talk about after that, and she led me back to the courtroom to explain how my testimony would proceed tomorrow. I would enter through a side door and walk down the center aisle, where another prosecutor would hand me a water bottle, and I would then approach the witness stand to be sworn in. The prosecution would be in front of me on the left, and the defense on the right.

Standing there in the nearly-empty courtroom where all of this was about to take place, I felt… nothing. None of it seemed to reflect any of the significance the entire situation had acquired. Yes, it was important, but everything around me made it clear that it was also just another trial. It was just a courtroom that would be used for many more cases in the future, a building where you could just as easily walk down another hallway and have no idea what was taking place in the next room, and a gathering of ordinary people with ordinary lives who were doing this as just another part of their jobs.

We get excited when we watch film teasers, but after we see the movie, we realize it was nothing like what we expected – it was just another movie. Having only heard about the trial from a distance, my expectations had grown so much that I failed to realize this was all still taking place in the same boring world the rest of us inhabit. Nothing about the reality of this seemed to do justice to the idea of it. Before leaving, I was directed to the government’s trial operations trailer, where two soldiers issued me a witness badge. My name was written on a whiteboard below several others. On the wall above their televisions, a black-and-white image of the Dos Equis guy read: “I don’t usually watch trials… but when I do, it’s not the ones I’m supposed to watch.”

Back at the hotel, I Skyped with my family, recounting the day’s events and making sure everything was okay at home. It was difficult to sign off for the night, and as soon as they were gone, the feeling of isolation grew to almost a physical presence. I left the TV on a random channel and tried to imagine I wasn’t alone. When the alarm went off at 5:30, I was nearly in a state of panic – it was still pitch black out, and it took me a moment to remember that I was in a hotel far away from home.

This time, Chief Joshua Ehresman joined us on the ride to Fort Meade. Tall, stocky and charismatic, his Southern accent and broad grin made his tales of hard-partying hijinks seem like so much innocent fun. He asked if I was military or civilian, and insisted he had seen me somewhere before – perhaps because of my Army surplus purse. I suggested he might know me from the internet; he laughed and remarked that he needed to stay off the internet so as not to get himself into trouble.

At the entrance to the courthouse, we were ordered out of the van so it could be inspected by bomb-sniffing dogs. A crowd of a few dozen people had gathered behind a barricade at the very far end of the parking lot, holding signs and cheering loudly as we walked into the tents. Not knowing what else to do, I waved. “Who are they?” asked one of the soldiers. “They’re gonna free Bradley Manning,” smirked Ehresman. “Good luck,” I muttered bleakly. He thought this was hilarious.

The witness trailer where we waited was roomy and colder than a movie theater – a welcome relief from the unexpected Maryland heat. Two private rooms were at either end, with a common area between them, lined with small drab waiting-room chairs and a few syrupy orange leather lounge chairs. A coffee machine was perched on a table, and an unused television sat in the corner, with DVDs like Independence Day stacked on top of it.

Today, there were six of us lined up for the defense: Chief Ehresman, Capt. Keay, Sgt. David Sadtler, Capt. Steven Lim, Col. Morris Davis, and myself. With the exception of myself and Col. Davis – the former Chief Prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantanamo – they had all personally worked with Manning in some capacity while he was stationed in Iraq. Every one of them felt somewhat mystified as to why they had been called here. They admitted to knowing almost nothing about Manning himself, and believed they had little to offer in the way of evidence other than simple facts such as “I saw a window open on his computer.” Once I told them of my conversations with him, they concluded that out of everyone present, I had spoken with him the most extensively.

Throughout the morning, we all refreshed our phones for updates on Twitter from Alexa O’Brien, Kevin Gosztola, Ed Pilkington and Nathan Fuller. Their tweets provided more valuable inside information on the minute-to-minute happenings than anything the Army told us that day. It was through them that we learned why the trial, scheduled to begin at 8:30 AM, had not even begun two hours later: the video and audio feed to the press room was nonfunctional, and they couldn’t proceed until it was fixed.

Eventually, Ehresman was escorted to the courtroom. We refreshed our phones obsessively as we waited for the next update from Alexa on what questions were being asked and who would be called next. At one point, my old name was tweeted by a reporter, and all of them saw it. “Oh great, now the whole world knows,” I joked. “Why do they even think that matters?” lamented Sadtler, a detached and ironic young man who was much less uptight and formal than everyone else present.

For such a significant occasion, the atmosphere in the trailer was starkly mundane. Even when waiting to testify at a historic trial, waiting in a small room all day gets old fast. Most of them talked to each other in acronyms I couldn’t understand, stopping only to inquire about the My Little Pony sticker on my phone. Keay had brought bananas, almonds and berries for us to snack on, and we all remarked on what a brilliant invention the Keurig machine was. Sadtler discussed the US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan with Lim, who soberly contended that our actions were regrettable but necessary. Sadtler, who seemed to be of a more liberal bent, was skeptical.

At one point, Manning’s lead attorney, David Coombs, stopped in to say hello to us. Taking Lim into a private room, we overheard them discussing several very obvious points about .EXE files – executable software. To Sadtler and I, who had both been raised online, it was highly amusing to hear people try to work out exactly what an .EXE is. We joked that it “hacks the Gibson.” By lunch, only Ehresman and Sadtler had testified. Col. Davis and I ate at the catering tent, where prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein was angrily berating another soldier for the problems with the media feed that morning. He seemed very high-strung and truly upset about this. I wondered if he would be similarly on edge in court.

With the press room issues cleared up, everyone’s testimony proceeded much more rapidly during the afternoon session. Eventually, Col. Davis and I were the only ones left waiting in the trailer. While my phone’s battery had died hours before, he helpfully kept me updated on what was happening just a few hallways away from us, and we passed the time talking about what we had each been working on recently.

I learned that he had received a Hugh Hefner First Amendment Award along with Jessica Ahlquist, a young woman who successfully fought to remove an unconstitutional Christian prayer display from her public school, and whom I had spoken alongside at a secular rally last year. He shared his thoughts about Guantanamo and the injustice of extraordinary renditions, as well as his stance on the Manning trial: that Manning’s actions were wrong, but so was the government’s pursuit of an “aiding the enemy” charge that could carry a life sentence. I found this to be a refreshingly elegant perspective – an all-too-rare acknowledgment that perhaps both sides could be right, and wrong.

At around 4:30 PM, a soldier finally came to escort me to the courtroom. We waited outside the doorway as dozens of spectators were led out of the building. Many of them looked me up and down as they passed – I couldn’t tell whether they were scrutinizing my face, or my pink hair, or if they just wanted to get some sense of what was going to happen next at the trial. An older woman asked if I enjoyed the clapping that morning. “Yes,” I answered unsteadily, not sure if I was allowed to say anything to them.

I was led through the hallways until I was standing outside the closed doors of the courtroom. Two soldiers, both women, stood ready to open them as soon as I was called in. I chatted with them about insignificant things like the weather, and once again, I shared my well-worn explanation for why I was there: that Manning and I had talked several times, and the defense now felt that the record of his statements could be useful in countering the charges against him. We stood there in silence for some time, until the doors were opened.

I walked in, and saw that the benches were packed with spectators. Every single person in the room was looking at me. It was completely silent; my ears began ringing, and my heart raced. I got the sense that everything was somehow frozen in time – walking past the benches and up to the stand was like a dream where everything is too slow, and you know you have to try and get away from something terrible, but you can’t. Fein handed me a water bottle. I didn’t know why I was panicking. I had told myself this was just something I’d have to do, like any other routine thing, and then it would be over.

As I turned to face the room, my heartbeat pounded in my ears even worse than before, and I could barely speak when Overgaard swore me in. My mouth went dry and my throat tightened. In front of me, at the defense table, I saw Bradley Manning for the first time. However underwhelming and unimportant everything seemed in the empty courtroom before, however much I’d thought the reality of the situation fell short of the idea, the reality had surely caught up and exceeded whatever I expected to feel. I could sense the energies of some pivotal moment of history turning to focus themselves on me, and the weight of it was almost unbearable.

Coombs asked me what my name had been before I changed it, the name I still had in 2009 when Manning spoke with me. In front of this room of strangers and the entire world listening outside, I spoke a man’s name in little more than a wavering croak. He then asked why I changed my name. I thought it was obvious – did I really need to explain it? What came out was something like this: “I’m a woman, and I wanted my name to reflect that.” A young woman in an aisle seat seemed to be vaguely impressed.

I kept looking over toward Manning. I wanted, more than anything, to see some indication that he was okay – that he was still alive in there, that he hadn’t been destroyed by all this. He only stared straight ahead at the ceiling-mounted monitor, with no visible emotion on his face. I tried desperately to make my pulse stop pounding, but seeing him that way just added to what I began to realize was a growing despair.

Coombs continued, asking me basic factual questions about my history with Manning: how he found me (he was a fan of my videos), how long we talked for (six months), and why he chose to speak to me (he felt I had a similar outlook on political and religious matters). I answered as best I could, but I couldn’t get my thoughts in order, and the words were slow and jumbled. My mind seemed mostly occupied with processing something much larger.

Most of the questions seemed redundant, given that the chat logs were the entirety of our interactions. I didn’t understand how my opinions could have any value here – even if all they had to go on was the text of our conversations, that was all I had to go on, too. I had no unique insight beyond anyone else. I didn’t know why I was there.

Coombs finally moved to introduce the 39 pages of logs as evidence, and Overgaard immediately objected, claiming that they were hearsay. There was a brief back-and-forth over the precise legal details, and Judge Denise Lind called a 20-minute recess so that copies could be made of our conversations and she could review them. The spectators once again shuffled out, along with the prosecution team. The only ones who remained in the courtroom were myself, Manning, his attorneys, and his guards – two large plainclothes men with earpieces who stayed within a few feet of him at all times.

During the recess, Coombs took me aside to the unoccupied jury panel, where we went over the specific portions of the logs that he would ask me about. I had looked over these excerpts with him many times before, but now I couldn’t concentrate. Instead, my eyes were drawn to Manning, well aware that I might not see him again for a very long time, if ever. It was a relief to see that he was happily talking and joking with the attorneys and even the guards. Some part of him had survived through all this.

After Coombs left, I sat alone at the jury panel. Seeing Manning look in my direction, I waved weakly at him. He nodded at me.

Once the court reconvened, Coombs simply had me read selections from the logs. For the first time since I walked into the courtroom, I began to relax, certain that the confident Manning I once knew was still there with me. My voice seemed to return, and I read his words aloud.

“With my current position… I can apply what I learn to provide more information to my officers and commanders and hopefully save lives. …I’m more concerned about making sure that everyone, soldiers, Marines, contractors, even the local nationals, get home to their families. …I place value on people first.”

During the cross-examination, Overgaard’s questions had little to do with anything we discussed at our meeting, and she likewise asked me to read certain portions of our conversations. I could tell that she had assembled these excerpts to paint a more damaging picture of Manning.

She cited conversations where he expressed a nuanced outlook on the methods and goals of terrorists, criticized malfunctioning military computer systems that made his job difficult, and sent me a link to his newly-developed unit “incident tracker” that was hosted on his personal site – a link which contained no actual content, though Overgaard did not allow me to clarify this. By now, any trace of nervousness had dissipated. Instead, I was merely incredibly offended. Even though these were his words and not my own, I felt a deep indignity at being forced to speak what they were intent on using against him.

I was excused from the trial and strode out of the courtroom, with a nod to Bradley Manning and to the spectators. Some nodded in reply.

Bradley Manning is a human being, and that simple fact made itself so apparent that day, everything else ceased to matter. Looking at him, there was no way I could continue to see the situation as being about anything other than this one person and what they had gone through. Yes, there are issues of morals and laws and risks and harms that must be weighed up. I know this. I’ve said those words before. But none of it was important now.

It’s not that I believe Bradley’s actions were right. It’s that I don’t even care anymore, and people’s shallow words of support or denouncement mean nothing to me. They have no idea what he’s going through – none of us do. To me, this isn’t about making him a figurehead for some movement, or a subject of our little arguments over abstractions, or a symbol of everything right or wrong with the world. It’s not about my opinion or the reporters who ask me for it. It’s not about the meaningless words I’ve written on needing to deter soldiers from leaking mass amounts of classified documents, something I foolishly believed to be the most relevant response to this situation. It’s not about finding an elegant answer to a moral puzzle or coming up with yet more rational arguments to support whatever I happen to be feeling at the moment.

It’s not about what we think of Manning’s opinion of Guantanamo or the Army or their broken computers, it’s not about soldiers joking around and admiring a coffee machine in a trailer, it’s not about whether the trial lived up to our expectations. It’s not about us.

For the past three weeks, my life hasn’t been about anything other than the fact that Bradley Manning is sitting in a cage right now while the rest of the world gets to walk away and move on. And I don’t think I can move on.

It’s easy to forget that at the center of all this furor is one person – a person like us, who thinks like us and feels like us and hurts like us. Having seen Manning in that room, I can never forget this. Before, he was just a name to me, one of thousands that have crossed my screen. But Bradley Manning is not, and never will be, just a name.

In that room, I saw a person who was in more trouble than I had ever seen another person be in, someone who had suffered and was still suffering the full wrath of an enraged, unforgiving American government. And that scared me, and I wanted to help him, to do anything I could to get him out of there, and I couldn’t. And that hurts beyond any words.

Nothing I can possibly say about this will be able to give him what he needs and deserves. What he needs isn’t as sterile as some right answer that accords with ideals of freedom or justice or any other lofty concept that we speak about in preachy tones. He is a human being and what he needs from the rest of us is humanity. The only meaningful question is how we can live with ourselves while this is happening to a person.

What I felt then and still feel now is a kind of guilt, unreasonable as it may be. No, I had no way of knowing what Manning was going to do – but if I had kept talking to him, everything could have happened so differently. I don’t know how I, still an immature child even at 21, would have reacted if he had spoken to me about his intentions rather than Adrian Lamo.

I could never tell how serious he was being when he talked about his work, and there’s a good chance I would have unwisely leapt at the opportunity to see or touch or transfer any classified material he had been gathering behind the scenes. For such an excited, youthful lapse in judgment, I could have been dragged into this unexpected and unimaginable hell right alongside him. Or, if I were more attentive to the consequences of what he was planning, I might have tried to discourage him from doing something so reckless. I might have been able to prevent this.

And if there was something else going on in his life that was distressing to him, maybe I could have helped him with that, too. What I didn’t reveal at the trial was that Manning opened up to me in part because we were both gay men. That’s not who I am anymore, and by the time Manning contacted Lamo, there were clear signs that he too was considering transitioning – signs that any other trans person would see as indicative of someone who was so far into this, they weren’t likely to turn back.

I’ve talked about Manning as male, because there’s been nothing but silence and denial on this front from his family and his attorneys, and I simply don’t know how else to refer to him. But I do know what happens when you take one of us and lock us away for most of our early twenties, unable to access treatments like those he was seeking. It horrifies me, and it should horrify anyone else who truly understands what it means to be held hostage by our own bodies.

Somewhere, in some other universe, I might have been able to stop all of this – or I might have ended up in a cell, too. But now there’s the unbearable discrepancy, the miserable and unyielding knowledge that I would get to walk out of that courtroom as a free person and he wouldn’t, that he’s locked in a cage and I’m not, that I got to transition and he didn’t.

The next day, Sgt. Daley drove me back to the airport. I stared blankly as he asked if I had seen any movies during my stay – he recommended The Lone Ranger. “That horse stole the show!” he effused. I tried to laugh, and I couldn’t.

I’d like to thank Heather, Lydia, Amy, Patience, and all my supportive friends who’ve offered their kindness and a listening ear. Thank you for helping me through this.

If you wear jeans, you’re not a woman: Transphobia at women’s shelters

The case of a women’s shelter in Maine handily demonstrates the true inanity of policing gender via its expression:

But the women who complained said they believe that in at least one case, it was a ruse. They believe one of the people in question is a man who occasionally dresses as a woman to get into the shelter, perhaps for voyeuristic reasons. That person did not have any feminine mannerisms and often dresses in a T-shirt and jeans, sporting a 5 o’clock shadow of male facial hair, they said.

“If they’re really living as a woman, I think they have every right to be there,” said one of the women who complained. “But he wasn’t wearing makeup or wearing eyeliner or anything. Just a man wearing a skirt. It was just odd.”

Let’s take a moment to consider the following advertisement.

levis-womens-jeans“Women’s jeans”? This is clearly a contradiction – anyone wearing jeans, logically, cannot be a woman. Note also this recent photo of Lady Gaga without makeup.

rs_634x851-130724115515-634.LadyGaga.mh.072413In the absence of any eyeliner, how can we possibly accept that Lady Gaga is a woman?

Oh, that’s right – nobody questions or doubts the very genders of cis women who wear shirts and jeans, or don’t put on makeup. That unique treatment is reserved for trans women. Cis women can dress as they choose, and while they too are scrutinized no matter how they present themselves, none of this is seen as invalidating the fact of their womanhood. When cis women wear jeans, nobody claims they’re actually men. Yet trans women are held to a higher standard: the jeans and shirts that would be acceptable for cis women now only erode our own legitimacy as women.

Cis genders are solid and stable enough to withstand any change of dress, but trans genders are seen as so flimsy that the mere absence of makeup can upend them. We thus face the dichotomy that we must be either far more exaggeratedly, stereotypically feminine than is expected of other women, or risk being treated as “men”. What sense does this make? It is an instance of cissexism: the attitude that cis people’s genders are more real, more important, and generally superior to those of trans people.

Shelters are a crucial and necessary resource for homeless, abused, and vulnerable women, and it’s very important that these shelters remain safe for their residents. These concerns are also not exclusive to cis women. Trans women need these shelters just as badly – and they need them to be a truly safe place to stay.

In a 2011 survey of 6,450 transgender Americans, 22% of trans women reported experiencing domestic violence due to being transgender. 19% of respondents had been homeless at some point in their lives, a number which rose to 48% among those who had suffered domestic violence.

A significant portion of trans women will require the services of shelters at some point in their lives. However, 34% of trans women who had attempted to access shelters were denied entry outright. Of the respondents who did manage to access a shelter, 25% were evicted after it became known that they were trans. 55% were harassed by shelter staff or residents, and 29% of trans women were physically assaulted. 26% were sexually assaulted at shelters. Overall, 47% were treated so poorly that they chose to leave the shelter.

Again, this took place in shelters that are intended to serve as a safe, supportive environment for abused and vulnerable women. Think about what that means: At least one in four trans women in shelters have been physically or sexually assaulted while residing at the shelter.

Many trans women are clearly in need of these shelters, and they urgently need these shelters to be a safe place to stay. But in pursuing the wholly valid and important goal of ensuring the safety of shelter residents, too many people have mistakenly viewed trans women as a problem, a danger, a threat. In rightfully seeking to keep women safe, they’ve wrongfully treated trans women as inherently suspicious un-women, refusing to see them as women who are just as much in need of support as everyone else there.

Fortunately, the shelter in Maine has refrained from casting doubt on trans women’s genders, and treats them as equally legitimate and worthy of respect. Yet the exclusion and mistreatment of trans women at shelters remains a widespread problem. The concerns that lead to this mistreatment neglect the reality of the situation: trans women are not the threatening ones at women’s shelters. They are the threatened ones.

And the more that people engage in this hostile, insipid questioning of trans women’s pants or makeup choices, the fewer trans women will be able to access these much-needed services during some of the most difficult times in their lives. This isn’t protecting women – it’s failing them.

Lessons from the first FtBCon trans panel

Our inaugural FtBCon transgender panel was fantastic in almost every way. 200 or more people saw it live, thousands more watched the recorded session on YouTube, our panelists had a great time, and many viewers had their questions answered at length. I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to Trinity, Autumn, Ellen and Amy for their participation, my fellow FTBers for putting the con together and making it happen, and all of our viewers for their interest.

Given the smashing success of the first panel, we’ve committed to doing a second in the series early next year. Crucially, our experience with this initial panel has illuminated a number of areas we must work on to make the next one even better. First and foremost:

DIVERSITY

Again: DIVERSITY. This year’s panel was white. White white white white white. It was also all-female, giving the false impression that “trans people” means “trans women”. Furthermore, all of us were from the US. We might as well have called it White Lady Chat Featuring Five White Ladies. This is exclusively my fault: in assembling this panel on short notice, I drew heavily on my immediate social circle, which does not reflect the vast and extensive diversity the event deserved. As a result, this year’s panel failed to include the voices and unique concerns of trans women of color, trans men and trans masculine people, genderqueer and non-binary people, trans people outside the US, and intersex people. The next panel will not occur unless I can ensure the presence and representation of all of these important voices.

Planning ahead

Again, this panel came together at the last minute, and we were left without sufficient time to gather a broader spectrum of panelists or assemble a more detailed agenda of topics to discuss. The event also could have used more extensive promotion and publicity in the weeks prior. By planning the next panel well in advance, we hope to invite some of the leading speakers in the field as well as everyday trans people from around the world, as well as develop a more structured format for the discussion.

Technical difficulties, please stand by

Most of us only familiarized ourselves with the technical aspects of Google Hangouts less than an hour before the event began, which resulted in a brief delay and some confusion. This is another Planning Ahead thing. Next time, we’ll make sure that all participants have their equipment set up properly, and that they have a solid grasp of the format long before the event airs.

Working overtime

I first scheduled the panel to last for one hour, and this turned out to be a mistake. Allotting just one hour to discuss trans people as a subject is like allotting just one hour to discuss the entirety of science, medicine, society, sexuality, and feminism. Obviously, at least two hours are required for that, and we ultimately had to extend the panel by another hour in order to cover trans topics adequately. Our next panel will likely be scheduled to last two hours, giving us the time we need to address the wide variety of subjects involved in trans issues.

YouTube comments considered harmful

Not having used Google Hangouts before, I was unaware of what would happen when the event began streaming live on my personal YouTube channel. This interacted badly with the fact that my channel has 40,500 subscribers and countless more casual viewers. Because this is YouTube, our panelists were exposed to the worst sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and general hate that the internet is capable of. One issue in particular was the number of comments where people felt it was necessary to offer their uninvited opinions on how ugly we were, how pretty we were, or how pretty or ugly we were compared to our fellow panelists. Having their looks positively or negatively judged, or compared to others, is a common experience for women who speak in public forums. For trans people, this also often becomes a referendum on the very legitimacy of our genders. Such comments are never acceptable – transphobia, homophobia, misogyny and hate are never acceptable. During the next event, these comments will either be actively and strictly moderated, or switched off entirely. In either case, the panel must remain a safe place for its participants.

Bathroom breaks

One word: Spironolactone. No way around it, really.

By making the effort to enact all of these improvements, I’m confident that the next trans panel will be an event of unsurpassed quality. I hope that all of you will tune in once again – we promise it’ll be worth your time.

You can still watch the FtBCon trans panel: Myths and Facts About Trans People

If you missed our trans panel of transness at FtBCon, don’t despair! The entire event has been recorded and saved to YouTube so you can watch it whenever you want. We discovered that just one hour wasn’t enough to contain all the awesomeness, so we eventually ended up with two hours of brilliance and sass from some of the smartest, coolest trans ladies I’ve ever met! We covered topics including the “trapped in a man’s body” trope, the excessive focus on trans women’s style and attire, the realities of transition surgeries, the relation between transitioning and sexual orientation, our histories with gender prior to transitioning, how gendered socialization affects us, issues with public bathrooms and other gendered facilities, and “autogynephilia”, followed by a variety of questions from viewers. Enjoy!

FtBCon trans panel of transness! Myths and Facts About Trans People

As part of Freethought Blogs’ online FtBCon conference this weekend, we’re hosting a live Google Hangouts discussion on “Myths and Facts About Trans People” this Sunday from 5 – 6 PM Central time. Our panelists include five trans women: Trinity Aodh of the Secular Woman advisory board, Autumn Nicole Bradley (Lydia Neon), Ellen Crouch, Amy Dentata, and me. We’ll be discussing the various misconceptions about trans people that have proliferated in the public consciousness, followed by questions from the audience. If you’d like to watch the live stream, just go to the Google+ event page. The entire panel will also be recorded and saved to YouTube afterward. We hope to see you there!

The Trouble With Depicting Trans People

This piece was originally published on Thought Catalog.


Transgender women are most commonly represented in two areas of media: comedies and documentaries. We’re nearly omnipresent in mainstream humor — practically any half-hour of Comedy Central is guaranteed to contain at least one joke about us, and almost all sitcoms and late night talk shows will eventually get around to making some sort of “tranny” references.

In some instances, we’re shown to be hairy, hulking men in ill-fitting dresses, the very image inviting mockery. At other times, the “humor” comes from a cis man (quick lesson: “cis” means all you folks who aren’t trans) initially recognizing a woman as a woman, and reacting poorly to the discovery that she’s “really a man” — the notion that someone could take her gender history in stride is just unthinkable. Viewers apparently see no need to reconcile the vastly different assumptions underlying the immediately apparent man-in-a-dress and the indiscernible just-another-woman. We can be both repulsively masculine and yet feminine enough to satisfy the well-trained eyes of male heterosexuals, both deluded caricatures of womanhood and also stunning enough to seduce men who would never see us coming.

A supposed remedy to these insulting stereotypes is provided in the form of documentaries about us, almost universally focusing on the process of physically transitioning — as cis people see it. Shots of women doing their makeup, putting on dresses, being wheeled into an operating room and having their bodies cut open are so cliche that they’ve become the subject of their own drinking game. These documentaries are presented as a factual corrective to the overt derision of comedy, offering cis audiences the apparent moral salve of compassion and understanding for trans people. Yet just as in the case of comedy, this is again filtered through cis people’s perceptions of us – cis writers, cis reporters, cis producers. It’s merely the other, more insidious side of the same coin.

If the most effective lies are those mixed with some truths, there is no better demonstration of this than trans documentaries. The shows are just correct enough to avoid mangling certain basic facts about transitioning, while selecting and arranging these facts in a way that completely misrepresents what our lives are really like. These depictions purportedly exist to help cis people grasp who we are, beyond the comedic stereotypes and societal mis-perceptions. What they really do is reveal, in their subtle yet pervasive inaccuracy, just how poorly cis people understand the experience of being transgender. When you’re trans, it’s utterly fascinating to see how outsiders choose to describe you – and absolutely horrifying to realize that’s really how they see you.

An unrelenting focus on the body is a unifying theme of the stories that others tell about us. Such a focus conveys to viewers that visible, physical transition is the central feature of our lives. Left unaddressed are the much more extraordinary, personal, and crucial processes of self-recognition and self-acceptance that we work through before we even arrive at that stage. While the camera zooms in on the blossoming of our breasts, it misses the revolutionary blossoming of confidence that comes with admitting who we are to ourselves, taking the step of living openly as our gender, or choosing to seek hormone therapy. Such documentaries would rather film me shopping for bras than let me explain how in a matter of weeks, estrogen obliterated the anxiety and depression and emotional deadness that I never realized had been holding me back for my entire life.

They’ll speak in solemn tones about how HRT is “irreversible”, as if the effects of our own natural sex hormones weren’t already irreversible in the worst way. To them, the notion of permanently changing a “normal” body with cross-sex hormones has undertones of horror at the need to make such an incomprehensible decision. To me, the real reason it’s irreversible is that I immediately knew I would never consciously choose to give up the calmness and inner peace it gave me, because I had never before felt like a truly normal human being.

These documentaries make sure to capture the moment when a woman has “the ultimate surgery to become fully female”, but nowhere will they mention that only one in five trans women have actually had “the surgery.” Many of us certainly don’t feel that keeping our cocks should consign us to some gender limbo of existing as merely “partial” women, but in the common understanding of “complete” womanhood for trans people, there’s no room for the happy (or, at least, tolerant) ownership of a penis.

And when they do attempt to delve into the inner lives of trans people, they still limit themselves to the most visible manifestations of our genders. Because cis people communicate the nuances of gender in only the most ham-handed and oblivious ways possible, they pick out the women with personal stories of playing with dolls and wearing pink frilly dresses – the ones who “always knew” since they were toddlers. One surely doesn’t need to be trans to poke holes in the notion that the presence or absence of interest in highly gendered “girl’s toys” defines the presence or absence of womanhood, but that’s the picture that emerges when producers literally can’t find anything more meaningful to fit the bill than pretty dresses. It’s a notion that leaves little allowance for women who would rather just put on a baggy shirt and sweatpants and no makeup before going to the corner shop. Trans women, that is — after all, such a thing is never thought to call the womanhood of cis women into question.

It’s easy to write these off as minor details that would be difficult to explain to a general audience, and which aren’t necessary to cover the broad strokes of what it means to be trans. And it can easily be argued that they not only increase the acceptance of trans people in cis society, but also help confused or questioning people realize that transitioning is a real and legitimate option.

What’s not so easy is personally reassuring hundreds of trans women who face agonizing self-doubt because they never played with dolls as little girls, or didn’t know when they were 3, or still don’t feel “trapped in the wrong body.” Because of those broad strokes, they now question whether they’re even trans at all – even in the face of overwhelming discomfort with their originally assigned gender. These inaccurate depictions set such a high bar that some women, despite thinking about it every day, will put off transitioning for years while allowing testosterone to ravage their bodies just because they aren’t sure that transition is a “need” for them rather than a “want.”

I was one of them, someone who had already been living as a woman in every way for over a year, yet still refused to seek treatment because I thought I was fine already. I didn’t think I felt uncomfortable enough with my body to justify doing anything about it. But of course, I wouldn’t know what that would feel like: I had no reference point for how my life could be even better, until I decided to find out for myself. Taught to fixate on my outer body, I had refused to listen to my inner voice.

Comedies present openly hateful and blatantly false stereotypes of who we are; documentaries present not-quite-right stories of our lives that trick both cis and trans people alike into thinking they know what being trans is all about. One poisons our image in the minds of cis people and makes us doubt whether the world will ever accept us, the other corrupts our self-understanding and makes us doubt whether we even are who we are.

So what do we do about this? When we point out the myriad shortcomings of most representations of trans people, we’re often asked what could improve this. What would constitute a truly positive representation of trans people in the media, when even the most apparently compassionate approaches are still almost irredeemably toxic?

I don’t believe such a thing is currently possible. When I go about my daily life, I don’t want to be the subject of lazy and hateful jokes, and I also don’t want my existence to serve as someone’s teachable moment. I want normalcy. We want to be able to live without being treated as either freaks to laugh at or zoo exhibits to learn about. We want to be human fucking beings. We want the normalcy of being left alone as others are — and this normalcy is precisely what society won’t allow us to have right now.

Some have paralleled the state of trans depictions to the progress of gay people in the media, just lagging behind by several decades. But gay couples increasingly have little issue with being openly and visibly gay, whereas trans people would often rather not have this fact of our lives be obvious to every single person we encounter in public. Most people know someone who’s gay, whereas 99.7% of the population is cis — and those of us who aren’t, again, usually don’t intend to make it easy for the rest of you to tell.

The result is that gay couples can now be casually included alongside straight people in the media without much attention or explanation at all, whereas any trans people must have their presence clarified explicitly. Not being inherently visible, they must be made visible — something has to mark us as trans. And while our society has nearly reached the point that acceptance of gays as normal is a baseline standard, the inclusion of trans people currently cannot be read as anything other than an intentional political statement.

Trans characters are thrown in, marked, pointed out for a reason: so that their transness becomes something to talk about. And by now, I have to say that I’ve had quite enough of the rest of the world talking about us. It’s awkward. It’s cringeworthy. It’s something for everyone else either to gawk at, or facilitate their belief that they now understand us. There is no realistic hope of a representation that’s truly positive in its own right — merely one that’s as absent of negatives as possible.

The one show that’s been continually singled out as an example of “positive” trans representation is Elementary on CBS. In one episode, the character of Ms. Hudson is introduced, with Sherlock Holmes making a passing mention of her Adam’s apple. And nothing about it is ever mentioned again. But after all this time, it’s hard for us to believe that it’ll be left at that. It’s been brought up, and we’re all holding our breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Thought Catalog: Sorry About Your Boyfriend, You Transphobic Jerk

Dear Anonymous, I’m sorry about everything that happened with you and your boyfriend. Anyone would agree that his betrayal and history of lies were unacceptable. Your raw pain at the discovery of his deception is plain to see, and I know it can’t be easy to find out that the one you loved the most was abusing your trust and looking for others to fool around with.

I can especially relate to your despair at knowing that you wouldn’t ever be able to offer what he was covertly seeking elsewhere – that he wanted the kind of person you could never be. It’s not hard to imagine how crushing it was to realize that the fact of your partner’s desires made any compromise impossible here.

Except if you think that’s difficult, try being a woman with a dick.

‘Cause I do mean a literal dick, not just some lowlife who’s always looking for escorts when you’re out of town. That’s right, I’m “a transsexual” (as they say among your people), just like the trans women your boyfriend was downloading porn of and trying to meet for casual sex.


If you’d like to read the rest of this article, please continue to Sorry About Your Boyfriend, You Transphobic Jerk at Thought Catalog.

Thought Catalog: The Trouble With Depicting Trans People

Transgender women are most commonly represented in two areas of media: comedies and documentaries. We’re nearly omnipresent in mainstream humor — practically any half-hour of Comedy Central is guaranteed to contain at least one joke about us, and almost all sitcoms and late night talk shows will eventually get around to making some sort of “tranny” references.

In some instances, we’re shown to be hairy, hulking men in ill-fitting dresses, the very image inviting mockery. At other times, the “humor” comes from a cis man (quick lesson: “cis” means all you folks who aren’t trans) initially recognizing a woman as a woman, and reacting poorly to the discovery that she’s “really a man” — the notion that someone could take her gender history in stride is just unthinkable. Viewers apparently see no need to reconcile the vastly different assumptions underlying the immediately apparent man-in-a-dress and the indiscernible just-another-woman. We can be both repulsively masculine and yet feminine enough to satisfy the well-trained eyes of male heterosexuals, both deluded caricatures of womanhood and also stunning enough to seduce men who would never see us coming.

A supposed remedy to these insulting stereotypes is provided in the form of documentaries about us, almost universally focusing on the process of physically transitioning — as cis people see it. Shots of women doing their makeup, putting on dresses, being wheeled into an operating room and having their bodies cut open are so cliche that they’ve become the subject of their own drinking game. These documentaries are presented as a factual corrective to the overt derision of comedy, offering cis audiences the apparent moral salve of compassion and understanding for trans people. Yet just as in the case of comedy, this is again filtered through cis people’s perceptions of us – cis writers, cis reporters, cis producers. It’s merely the other, more insidious side of the same coin.

If the most effective lies are those mixed with some truths, there is no better demonstration of this than trans documentaries.


If you’d like to read the rest of my article on trans representation in media, please continue to The Trouble With Depicting Trans People, my first post for Thought Catalog.