trans friends

When I was teenager, I came across some advice for dealing with other people’s perceptions of you. The general idea was to assess the person that you are concerned about by asking yourself a series of questions such as “Who is this person to me?”, “Are they the kind of person that I would like to be?”, “Do they share my personally held values, beliefs, and standards of behavior?”, “Do they have some kind of material power over me (i.e. a parent, teacher, or boss)?”, etc.

Based on your answers to these questions, you can evaluate the utility of their opinion. This method is often used to get people to disconnect from the comments on social media. By asking the above questions about the random person on Instagram, you can pretty quickly figure out that you probably shouldn’t concern yourself with that person’s perception of you. But what about when a trans person asks themself these questions about the people they actually care about in their life? What happens when they find that they don’t have many people that pass this test, even among their family and friends? Well, my answer is make trans friends (where and when you can)!

I grew up in and around cultures that firmly believe that instruction from your elders, and ancestors is vital to one’s social, moral, and philosophical development. However this focus on instruction is often used as a means of social control and manipulation, rather than in the interest of true personal development. For example, I was constantly instructed to “act like a lady” and close my legs, and cross my hands in my lap, and keep silent when adults were speaking. I see the appeal. An entire list of exhortations, and behavioral instructions wrapped up in a single admonition. Personally, I chafed against this method of enforcing social order. I would purposefully splay my entire body across multiple chairs when left alone, and then immediately snap back into place when confronted by an adult, even in public.

But as I aged, mild rebellion just wouldn’t do anymore, and I sought out a framework for moral and social development that would actually resonate with my sensibilities and outlook on the world. I found one of the biggest men’s interests magazines on the web and took the lessons on morality, virtue, and the development of personal standards of behavior available there and generalized them to “include me”. Little did I know that I resonated so much with this white/cis/het/Western canon focused philosophy of masculinity because it was extolling all of the positive virtues of the oppressive structure under which I spent my childhood, while completely ignoring the reality of this oppression. I genuinely thought that I could take the good without the bad.

This isn’t to say that there is absolutely nothing we can learn from writings like these. I credit that particular magazine with introducing me to the wisdom of the ancient Stoics and their philosophy. I also credit these types of publications for opening my mind to the interrogation of gender as an idea, and a concept within our human nature.

I liked analyzing the relationship that our society has to gender, and how that relates to the individual and their development as a person. But I was always stymied because I didn’t agree with some crucial aspects of the arguments being made.

I didn’t personally believe that gender was a binary. I knew that I definitely didn’t fit into most people’s ideas of gender. Yet, because I identified so strongly with a lot of what else they were saying, I didn’t realize that the people having these intellectual discussions on masculinity would object to the nature of my own relationship to masculinity [being trans]. So I felt lost, and disillusioned with men as a concept. There are so many websites dedicated to the understanding of one particular type of gender [i.e. white-cis] and yet I struggled to find an aspirational model of trans masculinity that spoke to me.

And I still haven’t. Even my own writing is not necessarily designed to serve the same function as the “mainstream men’s interest mag”, which are generally designed to serve as a part of a massive, uber-capitalist media conglomerate. I am simply on a path that, while definitely well trod, has markers that have been hidden, obscured, erased, and buried. I would like to explore this ancient path, and possibly highlight some of these guide posts.

Ultimately, I am left thinking about a line from an episode of the Gender Reveal podcast I recently listened to. There was a moment in Episode 94 with Kirby Conrod that extolled the virtues of making trans and otherwise gender non-conforming friends. At minute marker 36:30, Kirby asserts that the transition from friends that misgender you (or otherwise “other” you) to ones that correctly gender you is a natural process and one that may happen throughout the course of your transition. By surrounding yourself with people who get you, you insulate yourself from some of the social trauma that your initial transition inevitably causes. With the psychological safety that having friends that respect you affords, you can have a more accurate self-perception. This is what I mean when I say make trans friends. I mean make friends that are people you can look up to, and who live their stated values and beliefs. People who are thinking deeply about their own relationship to gender. People with whom you can share ideas without fear for your safety. It might sound basic on its face, but I encourage you to consciously try it sometime. It might be an informative exercise, regardless of outcome!

After you resolve to make more trans friends, I encourage you to learn more about interrogating your relationship to masculinity, and why “passing” doesn’t define your transition.