Henry Giardina introduces part of “The Trans Experience” in an excellent post over on fourtwonine. In addition to signal boosting his post, I am going to answer his suggested 31 questions.
So here’s the crux of what he’s trying to convey: As fucking violent as transmisogyny and trans-antagonism are, some people’s sense of empathy doesn’t shatter upon contact with gender variant people. The problem is that in their bid to try and relate with a trans person, they ask a lot of invasive and really personal questions (which we sometimes try to answer anyways–see the comments section of his article).
Now I don’t want to antagonize efforts to humanize trans folk, but nor am I particularly interested in letting up on the privacy to which I am entitled. Thankfully, Giardina proposes many questions that do the trick of humanizing without me having to answer the frankly ludicrous question of “cock or pussy?”
1. What was the first time you remember feeling like you were doing something wrong by being you?
I knew from the strict, patriarchal confines of the masculine role assigned to me that donning make-up is treated a bit like taking a chainsaw to school. Nowadays I’m not super in to make-up, at least not all the time, but I can still distinctly remember a very intense duality, a shame that burned alongside a defiant rush, a little voice that told the world to fuck off because I definitely wasn’t going to stop here no matter how much it wanted me to. It was a bit of powder and paint but people acted like I wanted to play with matches.
2. Where did this guilt come from? (i.e. religion, community, social beliefs of parents, class expectations etc.)
It cannot be understated that this guilt was sourced from literally fucking everywhere. Advertising, TV, caregivers, parents, teachers, peers, pastors, neighbours, books. I went the first 19 years of my life not knowing the word “transgender” because the world never at any point wanted me to know that was an option. So every time I tried to voice this periodically crippling disconnect with my sense of self, I was inevitably met with a silence that said more than any screaming or cursing ever could.
3. When was the first time you realized it might be okay to be you?
About the same time I started to improve my mental health by limiting the amount of fucks I gave regarding other people’s opinions about me. Not transitioning or asserting my identity was something I only did to please everyone else. Once I stopped pleasing everyone else, the choice became obvious.
4. What was the reason for that?
In general I was beginning to be persuaded by a lot of movements and arguments that we currently call social justice. I noticed a lot of people didn’t know or didn’t care that these movements were doing good, incredible work, they were just buying in to the smear campaigns uncritically. To be a feminist was to be a bra-burning man hater. That opinion just seemed incompatible with what we were actually doing.
5. Describe the first friendship you made as ‘you’ (after you came out)
Kay, which isn’t her real name, but if she’s reading this she knows who I mean. She will always have a very dear place in my heart despite the difficulties we had in the latter portion of our relationship. She had a great sense of snark and could direct it to the numerous dipsticks that raised my ire. God damn did she know how to hug when I needed it. She saved me… which is too much damn pressure for someone who isn’t ready to rescue anyone. Not fair to either of us.
6. How did your friendships change once you came out (both friendships you made and friendships you’d had before)
Prior to transitioning I overcompensated on my personality to try and make up for my debilitating insecurity. After transitioning my confidence is less boisterous and more assertive. I’m probably less annoying.
7. Who disappointed you the most when you came out to them?
My friend D, also not his real name. We aren’t friends anymore. I kinda wonder why I kept him around considering years before my transition he legitimately tried to argue that homosexuality was bad because the Bible said so. That really should’ve been my first hint.
8. Who disappointed you the least?
My friend C. She responded in the exact correct way: “Okay.” She knew better than to transgress on my boundaries and allowed me to come to her if I needed any tutorials on femme stuff.
9. Who surprised you?
My Dad. I was devoured by the fear that he’d disown me. In reality, he caught up to speed faster than my mom. I think he’s one of my readers, too. Hi Dad. Thanks for having human decency. It’s in shockingly short supply lately.
10. Has your identification changed since you’ve come out?
Yes. I’m more comfortable with ambiguity now. I don’t need to fit in a box. There’s some squiggly-lines in my identity, and I am at peace with that.
11. What about your ideas about gender?
Of course I was indoctrinated into the cissexist belief system and much of my mental health improved when I disentangled that mess. I had a TERF phase during that process which thankfully wasn’t recorded.
12. When did you learn about trans history?
TransAdvocate does a lot of work on that. I got about as far back as 1970s during Janice Raymond’s campaign to have transition services removed from healthcare. She succeeded. I try not to think about how many trans folk died between then and now because of it.
13. Did someone tell you about it or did you seek it out yourself?
During one of my gender frustration rants a friend sat me down and asked me point blank. My kneejerk response was “No, of course I’m not trans.” A week later I phoned him to admit I’m totally trans.
14. What was the first violent event you associated with being trans (the first suicide you heard of, movie or tv show you watched, book you read)
The first trans support group I ever attended, the facilitator said he had an announcement to make about one of the regulars. One of the other women asked “who was it this time.”
And two more times since.
15. How did it affect you?
It generated a lot of resentment towards people who don’t know about the extent of the problem. You have cisgender academics howling brimstone and hellfire from the safety of their gilded towers, talking about gender variance as if it were a distant, alien theoretical. Meanwhile my community was getting stabbed in the street. Must be nice to have requests for gender-neutral pronouns be the most pressing issue in your life.
16. Who was the first trans person you met?
A group, so I don’t really have a single person to remember.
17. What was (is) your relationship?
They were a support community.
18. In your current life, do you have to tell people you’re trans?
“Have” to? No. But I have the privilege that I can disclose on a regular basis without too much worry, so I do.
19. If so, how does the relationship change afterward (if at all?)
With respects to dating, people get scarce quickly. I’m used to it. I think most people are a lot less likely to turn tail and run in other contexts.
20. If not, how does it affect you?
21. As a child, when and where did you feel the most safe?
Watching Veronica Mars. Mars was a powerful counter-example to the docile, meek femininity I so often saw depicted in other media. It helped me realize transitioning didn’t have to mean being polite or demure, that my ambition and my femininity as I understood it were not mutually exclusive.
22. As an adult, when and where do you feel the most safe?
…Watching Veronica Mars. I’m also trying to straighten out my money so I can go back to music lessons for this reason.
23. If you could have picked a perfect time to ‘come out’, when would it have been?
I came out without using those words at 6, 14, and 19. What would have been perfect is being believed the first time.
24. What was your first experience with suicide or a suicide attempt (your own, or someone else’s)?
I made a plan to jump off a very high bridge. Called the crisis line the moment I realized what I was planning, and have kept vigilant about suicidal ideation since. Every year or so someone from the support group doesn’t reach out for help, and we never see her again.
25. When was the first time you felt you had established a chosen family (if at all?)
This is going to be a bit sad but my abuser convinced me her & her web would be that chosen family. At the moment, I feel a bit like a stray.
26. When was the first time you felt someone really got you?
My relationship with Kay.
27. What was your first positive mental health experience (if any?)
Coming to terms with my gender identity did wonders all by itself.
28. What was the first representation of transness that you saw that made you angry?
A rape victim shared a post on Facebook about how including trans women in women’s spaces meant introducing rape threats in spaces she otherwise considered safe, which made me double angry because 50% of the people who’ve raped me were cis women.
29. What was the first representation of transness that you saw that left you feeling positive (if any?)
If we’re counting non-fiction, Janet Mock is the on point-est person ever.
30. Do you feel like you had a childhood?
Not really. I felt like my childhood was spent watching a tape projected onto a screen of someone else’s life.
31. What’s something you hope to do for a young trans person growing up that you wish someone had done for you?
Give you the vocabulary to name yourself. Had someone given me the word “transgender” at age six I would’ve started this shit a lot sooner.