Category: Trans Life Page 1 of 2

Trans Life is where posts that focus on everyday aspects of being trans are found. We have articles on everything from loving your body, to leftist politics.

A queer existence is criminal

criminal

Let me start off by saying I shouldn’t have been browsing on LinkedIn at all. It’s literally Facebook with more Gary Vee worship, somehow. However, I came across a hot take from someone who bills themself as an LGBTQ+ educator and I have some thoughts.

I don’t have the exact post anymore, which is honestly a good thing. I would never want to bring unwanted attention to a fellow trans person online. Beyond the potential for harm, I try to avoid directly responding to individual personal opinions I come across on the internet. But I am making an exception because I feel so strongly on this issue, and I feel the amount of positive response this persons perspective received could indicate a larger acceptance of their opinion.

This person expressed a disdain for the rising popularity of the phrase “we need accomplices, not allies”. Their interpretation of this phrase was that trans existence is not criminal, and being associated with criminals/criminality is morally wrong. Therefore they preferred having allies to accomplices. Thus completely missing the political backbone of this deliberate word choice. Let’s explore some reasons why I, and many who are in this fight for trans liberation, choose to use this specific wording, “accomplices, not allies”.

Are trans people criminals?

While I definitely agree that trans people shouldn’t be criminalized anywhere in the world, this is simply not the reality in which we live. The 500+ anti-trans laws currently in front of state and federal legislatures in the U.S. serves as direct contradiction to this author’s primary point. There are thousands of people in this country that would have the very existence of trans and gender expansive people made criminal. In some places, the existence of transgender minors is currently illegal. Legislation that is tantamount to cross dressing laws has already passed in Tennessee. Ron DeSantis is on the warpath in Florida. How can you really sit there and say that trans people aren’t considered criminals?

Criminals vs. The State

It is, in fact, in everyone’s best interest that those deemed “criminal” by the state retain some measure of human and civil rights. The state has the power and sole discretion to define what is “criminal”. Who can really say that this power will not be applied to groups that have historically escaped it’s clutches?

To argue as much is to rely on what is known as normalcy bias. This fault in reasoning occurs when one makes the assumption that because something has not happened, it will not happen in the future. In the case of this LinkedIn author, they have made the assumption that because they are not currently being criminalized where they happen to live, they will never be. These last few election cycles should have been enough to disabuse anyone of this notion, but alas, here we are. I hope those trans people who have not already, can collectively overcome this human tendency to think things will continue to be as they have always been. We cannot afford to ignore these threats to our existence.

The Anti-Trans Hate Machine

What exactly are these threats to trans people? There is a political machine that is well funded and largely hidden from the public eye, that seeks to eradicate trans people from public life.

This machine accomplishes it’s goal through spreading misinformation about trans people and supporting political candidates that are sympathetic to the evangelical ideology at it’s core. The team at Translash Media has put together an insightful podcast series entitled “The Anti-Trans Hate Machine” which illuminates the evangelical Christian origins and funding sources that fuel this machine. Just recently, Mother Jones, Vice News, and many other large media outlets have reported on thousands of leaked emails that expose how these elected officials talk about trans people when they think no one is listening. It disgusts me, but it does not surprise me in the least.

The true history of the “criminal” in the U.S.

Unsurprising because the system of law enforcement in U.S. is rotten to its core. It is only an extension of state sponsored enslavement into the modern day. The roots of the policing system in this country lie in the “slave patrols” of the mid to late 19th century. These informal patrols which were originally tasked with hunting down, capturing, and returning enslaved people to their enslavers, eventually organized into the formal state run systems of law enforcement we know today.

Many people have covered the basics of this better than I ever could. You can take a look here, and here for resources to learn more about the history of law enforcement and prisons in the United States. I make note of this history to highlight the fact that law enforcement agencies are nothing more than state sponsored gangs that can be turned on anyone, at any point in time, for truly any reason, as long as that reason is reason enough for the state to deem you a “criminal”.

Wrapping it all up

To my mind the only recourse we have against this machine is advocating for the abolition of the system of criminality in this country. We need people who are willing and able to use their privilege to take a stand against the state and alongside trans people. If this means being seen as a criminal, so be it. As long the state continues pouring more funding into these systems, imperialism, and white supremacy will continue to affect everyone, though these effects are not equally felt across demographics. Everyone is not currently a criminal, but anyone could be.

Complement this article with a deep dive into how modern iterations of transphobia have used racism’s political playbook to maintain power or with an excellent lecture by author and abolitionist Dean Spade on the necessity of an anti-state approach to dismantling carceral infrastructure in the U.S.

Positive Masculinity: How to make it better for more of us

Poem by Ada Limón

Over the years , I have become aware of the fact that the version of masculinity accepted as the hegemonic ideal in the Western Imperial Core is based on white supremacist, bourgeois, patriarchal, misogynistic, transphobic, and ableist values. I have also learned there is an alternative to this ideal: positive masculinity. The most basic definition of which is choosing to consciously deviate from societal pressures or stereotypes that dictate what makes a person more or less of a man.

This definition is a great starting point, however I wish to address two of the main points I see repeated when people attempt to promote or discuss positive masculinity. These are people who excoriate many men’s general obsession with increasing their ability to physically dominate another person, without understanding and addressing the possible causes of this desire. Discourse around positive masculinity also focuses heavily on calling for men to get in touch with their emotions. While both of these points are worth your consideration, the framing of these messages can come across as denigrating aspects of the hegemonic ideal that are central to many people’s identities as men. I feel this to be something of a miscommunication that can be solved with the inclusion of a little nuance.

Stoic Philosophy, Buddhism, and Emotionality

Photo depicts the statue of The Thinker, in front of a museum. positive masculinity
Photo by Efrem Efre

So many (usually cis/het and white) men resonate with the philosophy of the ancient Stoics that it has literally become a joke these days. I understand where this is coming from, as the people who typically espouse the virtues of Stoicism often use it as an excuse to do little else in the way of self-examination. However, I argue that Stoic philosophy is not wrong in and of itself.

I believe that training yourself to avoid immediately reacting to situations can be useful to most people. Incorporating techniques designed to lower my reactivity has been healing for me, as a person who has been primed by trauma to react to every situation, often before I am able to fully understand what is actually going on. As a physically diminutive, and legally disenfranchised child this ability kept me alive, but as an adult this reactivity has taken a toll on my personal relationships. My mental safety systems are immature and in need of some renovations. Stoicism and Buddhism are two of the many different tools I have used in pursuit of this change.

However, I do not wish to engage with this philosophy uncritically. I do agree that the classical teachings of Stoicism are incongruous with a healthy relationship to your emotions. Classical Stoicism teaches the rejection of all human emotion on its face, a requirement with which I vehemently disagree. I have found that attempting to permanently reject all emotions that would disturb my “inner quietude” only leads to the sublimation of all emotions to anger, or to depersonalization and derealization. Often, my psyche is best served by fully experiencing my emotions, but I do not believe this must always be done at the exact moment they begin to occur in order to be effective. Positive masculinity discussions should include methods of handling big emotions and situations of extreme conflict.

Extreme situations often require one to be fully present, and focused on physical survival, which can often mean that it’s imperative to your (or someone else’s) safety that you not be bursting into tears or screaming your head off because you’re upset. Crying and screaming certainly might help you process what you’re experiencing but there are many situations where this would lead to worse outcomes than would simply putting a pause on emotionality, and pushing through to safety.

This imperative to maintain control of one’s behavior is where my accordance with Stoic philosophy ends, as we humans are not masters of our emotions. We could not possibly be. Emotions are signals and drives from our bodies that are intended to convey messages to our conscious mind, usually in the interest of preserving our sense of self or physical safety. While I agree with Stoic philosophy only insofar as we should not be beholden to these signals, or driven solely by them; I disagree with the Stoics in that I have learned1 the healthiest method of handling emotions is to address them consciously as quickly as possible. This allows the conscious mind to take these signals into account when planning how to address the situation causing the emotional response. In my experience, conscious awareness of one’s own emotional state is only an advantage when handling interpersonal conflict. Stoicism does not offer substantive help in developing this awareness.

Though Buddhism can. Incorporating certain Buddhist teachings into my daily practices has helped me endure some fairly traumatic experiences and given me more tools to keep myself safe in situations such as deadnaming and misgendering in public. These experiences are deeply scarring for me, but using breathing/walking meditations and mantra I am better able to keep a handle on my behavior until such a time as it is safe to process my emotions. Sole credit is not due to either Stoicism or Buddhism, but these are mental frameworks to which I can turn when I need to process the ongoing trauma that is my existence.

The Desire for Physical Power and the Necessity of Vulnerability

Photo depicts early 20th-century strongman George Hackenschmidt. positive masculinity
Early 20th-century strongman George Hackenschmidt

The desire for physical power is not inherently wrong. Wanting to be big and strong is not a bad thing. However, we must not engage with this desire uncritically. We should question our motivations for physical strength else we find ourselves driven to unhealthy extremes such as eating disorders, and/or steroid abuse. Often the fitness industry, and products associated with it, will sell you a sense of invulnerability along with whatever pill, shake, or workout plan they’re shilling. This is a problem because everyone needs to work on their relationship to disability and the vulnerability that comes along with it.

Personally, I want to increase my physical prowess in order to better support and protect the people in my life who are less capable of defending themselves or may have mobility issues that require physical assistance. I also use strength training to improve my personal relationship with my bodymind. These are noble goals. Many men who, like myself, were fed patriarchal ideas of what constitutes manhood feel that the call for men to “be soft” is a direct challenge to the traditional condition of manhood that is striving for greater physical capability. True strength is all encompassing. This call to strength, and the necessity of vulnerability should be cultivated simultaneously. It is wrong to argue that men need to work on one of these without also addressing the other.

Unless you die abled, you will become disabled at some point in your life. Put another way, even if you get to live a long, and relatively healthy life you will still be disabled simply by dint of your age. This means the vast majority of us will be very vulnerable at some point in our lives. If you can’t handle this fact emotionally, you are not a strong person. Focusing on the physical development of the bodymind is an honorable pursuit, but it must be accompanied by developing a healthy relationship with the mind part of one’s bodymind. This includes addressing your attitudes and anxieties around disability. Lean into this anxiety. Do the hard thing and learn more about what it’s like to move through the world as a disabled person.

Doing the Harder Thing and Positive Masculinity

That’s what this is all about, taking the more difficult path by leaving room for learning. Do the harder thing, and instead of shying away from your emotions, address them consciously, and immediately. Do the harder thing, and question your view of the world, and yes, maybe even your sense of self. In these ways, positive masculinity is not just getting in touch with your feminine side or learning how to cry. It can be these things. But positive masculinity, to me, is the active pursuit of being a better person in service to my self-actualization and to the people around me. Don’t most people want to have better, more secure relationships with themselves, and the people they hold dear?

So, what exactly is positive masculinity?

Men should be encouraged to feel their feelings, and, in fact, would be better served by learning how to address their feelings appropriately. Men need to criticize the motivations behind their quest for greater physical capability, and the anxieties that could be at the heart of this desire. No, it’s not right that men are by and large afraid of publicly expressing some personal qualities that may be deemed “feminine” because of society’s toxic expectations of them. These are just a few of the great things that positive masculinity promotes and I encourage you to learn more about the above concepts.

But we can go beyond this. When speaking about masculinity as it shows up in our society, we need to be offering a substantive framework of aspirational masculinity as well as pointing out the flaws of the current system. This mental framework does not have to be a set of standards to which to adhere, however it should consist of some guiding principles that are as inclusive as possible without being so broad as to be impotent.

When engaging with masculinity as a concept, most people will use the phrase “Whoever identifies as a man, is one” and leave it at that. I agree with this statement wholeheartedly. But it doesn’t do much for people who are questioning themselves, or seeking any greater understanding as to the nature of their gender itself.

I do not seek to define what masculinity is in concrete terms because this is not necessary and promotes gatekeeping manhood. Rather, I see my own relationship to manhood as more of a journey that I am continually on, instead of a destination or ideal model for which I must strive. Or as the artist Mars Wright likes to say, “Gender is a game, and I’m having fun playing!”

I recommend taking some time to think about how you would like to play this game that we call gender. Below are some substantive questions you can ask yourself to discover more about your current relationship to your gender, and how you might like to change it.

What are some things you like about your gender as it is now?

How does it feel to move through the world as you are now?

How do people currently address you? Does the way people treat you reflect the person you know yourself to be more of the time than not?

Can you name some expectations society places on people that have your body type, wear the type of clothes you wear, have your skin color, or hair texture?

How do you fit into these expectations and where do you diverge from them?

How do these differences make you feel about yourself?

How important to you is it that people’s perceptions of you align closely with your inner understanding of yourself? For some, this may not be a concern, for others this could be the primary driver of the choices they make around their gender.

Even if gender isn’t important to you, still consider the impression you wish to give others. What do you want others to see when they attempt to perceive you? If this is confusion then by all means, confound the masses with your gender. If you wish to be seen as an average Joe Schmo even if that could never explain the multitudes you hold inside yourself, that is just fine too!

I also understand not wishing to be perceived at all, I spent quite a bit of time in that space myself. What I found is that I could not stay there forever. The world imposed it’s own ideas of who I am onto me. These ideas were so off base that I was eventually forced to acknowledge the dissonance this caused and assume responsibility for relieving this distress. It is not my fault that the system of gender exists as it does today, but it is my duty (and yours) to actively take control of what I can about my gender and my relationship to it.

From these questions we can start to paint a picture in our mind’s eye of the kind of person we can aspire to be. This picture can fluctuate and grow, it can be very defined and concrete, or more ephemeral and changing, like a quick sketch or an elaborate oil painting.

To continue the game metaphor, your gender could be a highly structured, and elaborate game like D&D, or Settlers of Catan. Or your relationship to gender could be more like a quick, pickup game of basketball in the park. Recently, my relationship to my gender has felt more along the lines of Calvinball, a game invented by the protagonists of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip with rules that are invented on the fly, and are often self-contradictory.

Wrapping it all up

My ultimate point is that positive masculinity is so much more than getting in touch with your feelings. We need to deconstruct our entire understanding of what gender is, in order to make sure that our relationship to it is genuinely our own, and is not solely the reflection of other’s perceptions or lack thereof. Our gender should not be based on transphobia (i.e. I want hormones and he doesn’t. I’m more of a real man), misogyny (Men are just so much smarter than women), ableism (I’m stronger than him, so I’m a better man), racism (He’s a thug, I’m such a nice guy), or classism (I make a lot of money because I’m not lazy, that makes me a good provider).

It is simply a waste of time and energy to define ourselves by what we are not or how we measure up to other’s ideas of us. No, the true self is exactly that, self-oriented. When we attune to this true self, we can begin to take active steps towards embodying who we really are, and focus less on who we are not. I argue this is the crux of a truly mature relationship to gender and what the message of positive masculinity does a decent job of promoting.

I highly recommend you look into some resources for learning more about positive masculinity, which you can find here, in article form, and here is a great video breaking down the basics of the concept.

Complement this article with a treatise on facing disillusionment with masculinity, or by deepening your understanding of and appreciation for the act of creation.

Citations:

1 – Gibson, L. C. (2015). Adult children of emotionally immature parents: how to heal from distant, rejecting, or self-involved parents. Oakland, CA, New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

I thought Barbie was an alien: a love letter to femininity

An undressed pale skinned Barbie doll sits propped up in front of tree with its torso covered by a leaf surrounded by a bed of fallen leaves. - femininity -

The tall, pale skinned woman opens the pink door of her convertible and extends an impossibly long leg out onto the pavement. She emerges from the vehicle, and you begin to wonder how she could possibly have fit inside as she towers over her surroundings. She walks quickly, and silently into her house that also seems slightly out of proportion to its occupant.

As she enters her home, she kicks off her tiny hot pink heels. Once we peer inside, we can watch as this person goes about her day, but something still seems slightly off. She makes dinner, though she herself never appears to eat, and there is no one else in the home. She lays out a bowl of water, and pet food on the kitchen floor, but we never see an animal around the home. When watching TV, she seems to sit stock still, her gaze fixed on a static screen.

It isn’t until late in the night that we catch a glimpse of something truly out of the ordinary. When the clock strikes midnight the impossibly tall, slender woman grabs a pair of binoculars from the living room cabinet and begins peering out of a living room window into the night sky. After a few short minutes, she strips off her brightly colored dress and runs into the backyard. The last we see of her is her nude form floating up into the star-studded night.

That is, until the next morning when this woman can be seen waking up in her bedroom, now inexplicably dressed in a flowery top and neon green pants. She wakes up and prepares for her busy day of work as a world-renowned supermodel.


When I was growing up the concepts of feminine beauty and sexuality were understood by those around me exclusively through the lens of the male gaze. Barbie being a perfect example of this, as she is arguably a personification of the male gaze. Whether viewed through the lens of science, second wave political feminism, or through religion, my family has only ever understood femininity as men understand it. And despite being trans, I was no exception until very recently.

Biology

The main perspective through which my family taught me about sexuality was the brutal reality of biology. My mother was both a biology and a chemistry major during her undergraduate degree and made sure both me and my sibling were aware of what our body parts looked like, their proper names and functions, and, at an appropriate age, how sex worked in a mechanical sense. There was rarely, if ever, any mention of pleasure or of queer sex.

This dry, scientific approach to human sexuality contributed heavily to my theory on Barbie. I was taught that, generally speaking, humans have genitalia, and at least partially functional mouths and anuses. The Barbie’s I played with had none of these, nor was the plastic on their lower section molded to resemble underwear, as some are now. Couple this lack of orifices with her impossibly long limbs, and rather oddly shaped breast forms and the one conclusion my mind could draw was that Barbie must be an alien who simply resembled humans in order to live more easily among them. This was how I played with Barbie’s until I lost interest in them entirely somewhere around 7 or 8 years of age.

Second wave feminism

The brand of feminism unique to the mid-20th century also deeply influenced both my mother, and her mother. Despite chafing at the demands of a deeply misogynistic capitalist system, both my mother, and grandmother fully internalized their positions as “undesirable” to the male gaze and sought empowerment within the system through the imitation of masculinity.

My grandmother went from being a hyper visible target of the male gaze as a rather attractive teenager, to consciously rejecting the male gaze during and after college. She sought to defeminize herself through smoking cigarettes and vocal training to deepen her voice. She bought suits with shoulder pads to broaden her slender frame and wore 2–3-inch (5-7.5cm) heels everyday despite being 5’-10” (178 cm) tall without them. There were many reasons for this but the main one was that my grandmother was determined to make a career for herself in public service as a social worker.

This meant fitting into the local government office work environment of the mid-1950s through the 1970s. Looking, sounding, and acting more like a man was only an advantage. Which is why my grandmother impressed upon my mother that it was better (and safer) to be deemed sexually undesirable by the male gaze. Along with this, feminine sexual desire for men was seen as problematic to the cause of feminine political equality. Being submissive to a man in any sense, even if that only meant one enjoyed a receptive role during sex, was seen as debasing oneself. Despite her best efforts, these ideas did make an impression on my mother, and continue to influence her thinking on gender and sexuality to this day.

image of barbie doll dressed in pink satin ball gown with white lace accents. - femininity -

Religion

This staunchly feminist attitude was deeply at odds with my family’s religious teachings. Both my mother and me were brought up in the Church of the Nazarene. The qualities deemed most desirable in a woman by the Church and its members were namely whiteness (or proximity to it), chastity, and submission. I was taught that beauty was to be found in one’s perceived virginity, and willingness to serve a man. Both of which naturally excluded me, a childhood sexual assault survivor who has never been interested in men sexually.

Though I did receive a lot of praise for my bright blonde hair, blue-green eyes and light skin. This told me everything I needed to know about what people actually took into account when they interacted with me, my exterior. I was forced to listen to sermons and “youth-oriented discussions” on the value of sexual purity, and how abstinence until marriage is the only righteous path. All while knowing that these same people who were seemingly so concerned about “my immortal soul” would look down on me if they knew what I had been through. Keep in mind I stopped going to church at the age of 10, so these are just the messages I absorbed as a young child.

Taking a step back

All of these perspectives were sorely lacking. They are 2 dimensional at best and serve only to flatten the powerful twin forces that are feminine beauty and feminine sexuality into something built only to serve someone else’s imagination. These common means of understanding the world around us (politics, religion, and science) seek to reduce the entirety of human experience: love, sexual tension, release, pleasure, pain, gratitude, longing, fulfillment, comfort, affection, intimacy, and identity into things that can be easily owned, manipulated, and eventually consumed. I deserved better as a kid, and we all deserve a deeper understanding and appreciation for the truly multifaceted nature of femininity.

Multiplicity and Femininity

When looking back, I find myself intrigued by this aspect of multiplicity inherent to my childhood understanding of femininity. Barbie was an alien who could successfully live and function among humans. Drag queens, a childhood fascination of mine, looked nothing like their drag personas when the makeup came off. Many people who wear it feel makeup to be something akin to a mask, a part of themself, but something that can be put on and removed at will or convenience. To my young mind, femininity was allowed to exist in so many iterations, and masculinity came in one form: loud, and dangerous.

I did not have options as a child. Lack of choice was, in fact, a defining aspect of my childhood. Everything in my life, from what and when I ate, to how I dressed, sat, and spoke was policed by someone. Everyone had a fucking opinion. The aspect of femininity that I fell in love with was simply the idea of being able to conceal and reveal aspects of yourself at will. There is real power in this act. It has saved my life. And continues to do so to this day, though I now recognize that this skill is not inherently gendered.

Image of femme person with blonde hair and pale skin in front of beige background. They are holding a cut out of Barbie's eyes in front of their face. - femininity -
Photo by Leeloo Thefirst

Wrapping it all up

Despite my enduring passion for the power that others find in feminine beauty and sexuality, it is not for me to claim personally. I admire it deeply, but I do not feel a personal connection to what, for others, can be a very real means to self-fulfillment. One need only witness the amount of folks who feel personally liberated by expressing their femininity and having it validated, to understand that a great many people find joy and identity in embodying aspects of the human condition which greater society recognizes as “feminine”.

Thankfully, my understanding of the world has grown beyond that of general society to include the fact that gender is personally understood, and there are as many genders as there are people in existence. It was only through interrogating my relationship to masculinity, femininity, and gender as a whole that I came to see this truth. So, while I can’t give her all the credit, I do have to thank you, Barbie, for kicking off one queer kid’s journey into thinking critically about this bizarre thing we call gender.

Complement this with the definitive guide to facing disillusionment with masculinity or with a poem on the inherent worth of trans womanhood.

On doing what you have to (or why I’m stealth now)

I have not made it a habit in my day-to-day life to be out and proud about being trans. In fact, just recently I felt it necessary to completely disavow my transness, in an attempt to get someone to gender me correctly. The misgendering isn’t any fault of mine, and I didn’t necessarily have to approach the issue this way. But this is the route I chose. I don’t know all my reasons for this, but I have distilled it down to a sense of safety.

I currently work in a construction subcontractor’s office. When I first started, the man who is both my direct supervisor and the Vice President of the company routinely misgendered me, for some reason. I sat both him and his wife, the President of the company, down and had a brief discussion about my pronouns. Though they never asked outright, I denied being trans. Since this conversation, my supervisor has improved. The President has been overall really consistent in addressing me properly, but just a week ago from writing this, she misgendered me when speaking to another employee. I didn’t, and still don’t understand why this keeps happening. The “why” doesn’t matter, ultimately. I am now extremely anxious to come into work, because I am continually trying to brace myself for the inevitable. They have improved significantly over this last week, but my boss fucked up again today. Suffice it to say, I’m looking for another job.

My boss did offer to let me punch him as a means of apology. Maybe one of these days I should take him up on the offer.

I know that I am not obligated to disclose my trans status, and I am perfectly within my rights to go as stealth as possible. I have dealt with a lot of harassment, and systemic transphobia just to get to the point of being stealth. Even accepting all this, the fact that I felt the need to go to these lengths to remain stealth doesn’t sit well with me. To me, this is proof that the world is not for me, as a trans person. In order to protect my sanity and my safety, it felt safest to distance myself from my own identity, even here in sunny San Diego, California.

This is unacceptable. If I, a gigantic, white, “cis passing” trans guy doesn’t feel safe, who the fuck could? This world has been violently, and irreparably shaped to promote white, cis passing men’s welfare as much as possible. I point this out in order to offer something of a counterpoint to the ridiculous idea that “we’ve come so far” with accepting gender expansive people. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard something along the lines of “We’re so progressive here in California, you’re in a good spot!” or “We’ve come so far in accepting this gender stuff.”, I’d be a rich man. People are really out here thinking we solved transphobia. Lord, help them.

It’s exhausting to have the struggles that define your day-to-day life completely invalidated and ignored. This reminds me of the arguments my fiancee and me got into over the length of time I took to come out to one of her parents. Her parents have recently divorced so, I came out to most of my fiancee’s family all at once, and then came out to this particular parent months later. The reason for this is simple, I didn’t think they would get it, and I was right. My fiancee hated seeing how stressed and angry I got when this parent would refer to me with feminine terms, and literally said to me more than once, “If you would just come out…”. She was under the impression that it would help because her other parent had already mistakenly outed me as trans to this person. For some reason, this gave my fiancee the impression that all I needed to do was come out, and this parent would suddenly start gendering me correctly. I knew it would actually make things worse, and after I was able to calm down, I repeatedly explained as much to my fiancee. Yet, she still pushed me to come out. Eventually she dropped it, and I stuck to my own timeline. I am proud of that.

Unfortunately, I was exactly correct. The first time we visited after I came out, this parent didn’t change at all. During this holiday trip, this parent never once referred to me correctly, rarely corrected themselves, and even had the gall to leave a holiday decoration featuring my deadname on display in their home. I ended up taking this decoration down myself the night before we left.

My fiancee and me ended up getting in one of the worst arguments we have ever had over this parent’s behavior. The specifics of this fight are not important but suffice it to say neither of us are proud of the things we said. My point in addressing this argument at all is to highlight that there are always very real reasons someone is concealing aspects of their identity from people that are otherwise “close” to them. I knew I would be unable to safely cope with her parent repeatedly, and knowingly misgendering me. I have known that misgendering would be the biggest problem for me since before I even admitted that I am trans. The real fear of what emotions misgendering could bring up kept me from coming out for a very long time. I knew transitioning publicly would take a massive amount of emotional labor, and masking when I am feeling intense emotions, neither of which I have ever been very good at. So, I stayed in the closet until I just couldn’t stand it anymore. This is not a tactic I would recommend. However, it was definitely the safest option for me and my circumstances. I did what I had to, and now I am living with the consequences.

I will say I am definitely more emotionally mature and capable than I was at 20-22 years old. I was living with my mother back then, which caused a lot of problems. That situation demanded so much of me emotionally that I did not have the bandwidth to look inward. I was working 14-hour days for a laughable amount of money. I wasn’t even brushing my teeth regularly, I barely had access to laundry facilities, and wasn’t getting adequate nutrition. I was relying on caffeine and the occasional diet pill to mitigate my hunger. I was also drinking pretty heavily until the pandemic hit. Then I had no choice but to quit drinking for months on end. I also had space, and time alone to reflect on myself and my life choices up to that point. I knew then that it was do or die, literally. The minute I could, I started applying for jobs with he/him pronouns, and I came out to my fiancee.

Then came the reconciliation. I couldn’t quite square up my reasons for waiting so damn long. I resented myself a lot. I hated the world for what it is. I was scared. So scared, even though I’ve known this was inevitable since I was teenager. I’ve spent a lot of time and brain power on this question of waiting, and the best I’ve come up with is, again, safety. I was out of control. I couldn’t have handled the things that come with moving through the world as a trans person. I would have completely self-destructed or irreparably harmed someone around me or both. I’m glad I dealt with my issues in the order that I did. I guess I just wish the world had made it easier. Maybe I wouldn’t have needed to wait so long.

Coming Out Part 2: How to create a personal safety plan

This is the second half of a series on coming out/welcoming in. If you have not read the first half, you can find it here.

I have never enjoyed explaining myself to others. I have often felt disconnected from who I am, and it has taken a lot of time, and practice to embody myself fully even for brief periods of time. I mask many of my autistic traits when I am among company other than my fiancée. She is the only person I can fully unmask around, because she herself is neurodivergent. She is also the only person who sensed I was trans before I knew. I never really came out to her, either.

I did, however, have to welcome her to come along with me on my journey. Both of us had a lot of learning to do when it came to trans stuff and it showed in our relationship. We had more than a few totally avoidable fights for many reasons. The heart of the trouble really was that I am not great at explaining things about myself and we were both ill prepared for how emotional things can get when it comes to discussing identity.

One major mistake I made when coming out was not making a safety plan beforehand. This could have been as simple as a conversation between myself and my fiancée where we talked about my needs if I became overwhelmed. Or a safety plan could have been as involved as preparing for many different contingencies. Not every coming out or welcoming in will need all of the steps below but I suggest you read through them all at least once to get a sense of what would be good things to consider.

1. Consider your access to the basics: food, water, and safe shelter.

To assess your risk of losing access to these things you can ask a few questions.

What kind of material power does the person/people you are addressing hold over you?

Have they threatened to remove these types of support in the past over your identity or other things? Speaking from experience, if someone has threatened to do this before the likelihood of them doing so again skyrockets.

Do you have somewhere safe you can go should things go south and you need to get some distance? Is this option only temporary or do you have a longer term option available?

If you anticipate needing to leave in a hurry, you may consider packing a go bag. This should contain the basics like clothing, non-perishable foods, water, shoes (if they’ll fit), and any sentimental items that are very important to you. Even if you don’t anticipate needing to run, I would still go out of your way to protect any sentimental items that you would like to keep. People can have really unexpected reactions to revelations of this magnitude.

Before actually doing the deed, make sure you have a safe place to which to retreat, preferably with a locking door, and that you have snacks and fresh drinking water. Even if you’re telling your friends at school, you may want to plan to have the option of running to the bathroom for privacy, or having something to eat or drink, should any of these needs suddenly arise.

2. Consider your audience further.

Who will you be welcoming in with this announcement and what is the nature of your relationship with them?

What is their current understanding of transness?

If they are known to be hostile towards or seemingly “ignorant” of trans people consider your boundaries around things like questions or comments and your expectations for their adjustment. I would try to be as clear as possible about these during the coming out process. For some people, I laid out some specific phrases and wordings that should be avoided.

3. Consider choosing your method of communication around your boundaries and personal safety.

I texted some people and announced to other people in person. I was never in any physical danger as a result of coming out (or being outed) to someone and for that I will be eternally grateful. Your situation may be different and may require more advanced considerations such as those listed above. Use your best judgement here.

4. Consider your mental state in the days preceding coming out.

How have you been feeling physically? Mentally?

What are you struggling with?

What is going right in your life?

Have you been getting good quality sleep?

Have you been able to get adequate quantities of food and drink in the days leading up to and the day of your announcement?

If your answers to the last two questions were no, I would reconsider your timing for this welcoming in. You may be better off waiting even one or two extra days if you can manage to get some food, and rest in the meantime

5. Expect the unexpected.

I had a completely unexpected reaction to coming out to a group of my fiancee’s family. I completely dissociated and have limited memory of the hour or so immediately after telling them. I remember I came to and had managed to make my way from sitting and eating at the dining room table to standing and leaning on the table in the kitchen. I then dissociated again and when I came to I was lying down in a different room.

My fiancee started trying to talk to me and realized I wasn’t there. I came back to conciousness to her crying and asking me where I went. I really didn’t expect this, as I have never dissociated involuntarily before.

I tell this story not to frighten you but to illustrate that you may need to deal with something you didn’t expect. Whether that is our own reaction, someone else’s, or something completely out of left field, you will more than likely experience something you didn’t expect to have to confront.

Sometimes surprises are good.

There is also sometimes the possibility of being surprised in more pleasant ways. I tend to struggle even with change that is overall positive. Surprises of any nature are rarely welcome in my life. But even I, with time and distance, have been able to feel positively towards certain unexpected aspects of this welcoming in process.

One that immediately comes to mind is how the manager of my apartment building handled my name change. The first thing she said was “Oh, you just changed the whole thing!”. Which for some reason is still one of my favorite reactions to someone learning that I’m trans. She then proceeded to update my lease as quickly as possible, and everytime she has seen me since then she’s greeted me by my proper name. I appreciate that.

These things come to my attention sporadically. So when they do, I try to think them over, and revel a little in the bits of joy that coming out did ultimately bring me. This practice has been helpful for my mental wellbeing in the long run.

Wrapping it all up

The one thing I hope you take away from this series is an understanding that you have the right to come out to/welcome in the people you want to, when you want to, in the manner that you want to.

Life may not always work like this in practice, as there are plenty of cases of outing, and coming out is rarely a one-time, cut and dry, conversation or text message. But I’ll say it again, no one should pressure you to come out in any way, ever. Not your therapist, not your family, not your partner, nobody. This is a process you should get to do in your own way, on your own time. Hopefully, in the future, it isn’t even necessary.

Complement this with a crash course on getting involved in community action, or a look at how transition can be an act of creation.

Coming Out Part 1: It isn’t as important as you think

Photo by Marco Bianchetti

People like to push the narrative that you can’t expect people to change the way they view you if you don’t ask them to, a.k.a coming out. And while I totally understand this on a practical level and really don’t see an alternative in the foreseeable future, I do struggle with the perception of coming out as a fix. The only thing that telling people you are trans actually gives you is the ability to say “Well, I’ve done my part.”

It is the responsibility of the people to whom we come out to do the work of changing their perceptions of us. Many people do not understand this. So many people think that if we just “educated” someone who is “ignorant about trans people” they would be a perfect ally and the trans people in their life will never have problems with them again. But that is hardly how it works.

Someone made this assertion to me once, albeit not in as many words. I was telling them that I wasn’t yet out to a mutual family member of ours because I know they have transphobic views, and this person interrupted me to say “Oh well, they’re just ignorant.” I literally could not continue with the conversation after that. This small comment changed the way I view this person, because it betrays an ignorance of it’s own. No amount of education will change someone’s view of me.

Gender is such a nebulous concept that the average person doesn’t have the time, space, or mental bandwidth to engage appropriately with this topic. This is a personal journey I am asking them to take in order to understand me better. I could talk until I’m blue in the face, but it is entirely up to the individual to whom I am coming out to change their thinking or not. Which is why coming out to others is less important than a lot of things.

Coming out isn’t as important as:

1. Active participation by the people closest to you.

Actually coming out is a hell of a lot less important than what happens afterward. In my family, I have two people for whom I knew the shift in thinking would be very difficult. One is elderly, the other is middle aged. My elderly family member has tried very hard and messes up constantly but is getting better. I know she practices in her spare time. She tries her damndest, it is still hard for me sometimes but I really appreciate the effort.

Then there is one middle aged family member that I’m 99% sure still refers to me with feminine terms behind my back, most of the time. This person also constantly misgenders me to my face, but does go out of their way to correct themselves sometimes. I won’t get too into details because they really aren’t important. All I know is that this person does not see me as a man, and is not working to change their perspective at all. This is the same person that was referred to as “ignorant” in the anecdote above.

Coming out to this person made things worse for me in some senses, and much better in others. Sure, it’s nice to be open about who I am and to know for sure that my intuition about this person was correct. But at the same time, I am now dealing with a person who is knowingly misgendering and deadnaming me. So, ultimately, coming out to this person was next to useless. Not entirely, and I certainly don’t regret it. But my part is done, and the more important part of the equation is missing.

2. Coming out to yourself and self compassion more generally

It took forever to crack this egg. I have known that I “identified outside the binary” since I was about 13-14. That language resonated with me and then I immediately proceeded to not investigate that further until I was in my 20s. I spent my teenage years trying to understand the form of masculinity with which I was most familiar. That is cisgender, heterosexual, patriarchal, white masculinity. I became deeply invested in the idea of becoming a good person through embodying the hegemonic ideals of my childhood:

Love and support a woman, maybe even a family, get a good job, work hard, exercise and get tough, be all things strong, capable, and stoic for everyone around you. (Incidentally, all of this means that anyone who is not interested in or capable of being any of these things is “less of a man”.)

In my 20s, I was finally forced to confront the fact that I am not, nor will I ever be, a cisgender man. That, by default, disqualifies me from attaining the pinnacle of the masculine ideal of my childhood. This led to a lot of shame, resentment, and hopelessness. For years, I didn’t take any steps to address anything about my gender beyond my clothing. I now have to live with, and work through the regret associated with this wait and the reasons behind it.

The “coming out to myself” process has been more of an exercise in self-compassion than I really ever expected. It is shame that has been the most painful part of this so-called “transition”, and the only antidote for shame is compassion. I have to forgive myself for the sin of not being cis, the sin of being fat, the sin of being queer. I have to forgive or I would not be who I am today.

3. Learning more about trans people and trans experiences.

This includes engaging with the creative work of trans people such as books, art, music, comics, zines, poetry, essays, podcasts, and news articles by trans/gender expansive journalists. And mutual aid. These also happen to be two of the most potent options for building a trans community around you. Start following the accounts of trans artists, and creators. The TransJoy Media Instagram account is a great place to find new and established trans artists featured as frequently as possible.

You can also start going to local craft fairs, farmers markets, and other events that feature local artisans and creators. Sure, with this method there’s not necessarily a way to know if the artist you like is trans, so I would recommend keeping an eye out for art with explicitly queer themes. Chat with the artists if you can and discuss your own identity if you’re comfortable and how their art resonates with you. As a creator myself, I love talking about my work and how people relate to it.

4. Your safety.

This is an old saw but one worth repeating. Your safety and comfort is the single most important thing about your transition. The second half of this two part series will deal with this in depth, but for now, just remember that you are never obligated to come out to anyone. Just like welcoming people into your home, you should be allowed to choose where, when, how, and to whom you come out.

No one should push you into coming out before you are ready, under any circumstances. You deserve comfort and safety.

coming out
Photo by ian dooley

Coming out vs. Welcoming in

My own relationship to “coming out” has been rather messy, and fraught. Personally, I don’t like having to explain myself to people. I am an incredibly private person, and my transness is wrapped up in many deeply personal aspects of my history and identity. I’m certain there are plenty of other trans people out there who feel like this. Which is exactly the reason why I am working to change my perspective on this act of telling people who I am. I have heard coming out described as actually welcoming people to learn more about you as a person. Much like you would when welcoming someone into your home.

This slight shift in language helped me understand why I was so reluctant to share this incredibly private part of myself with my family. I am allowed to decide who comes into my home, and I am allowed to decide who knows I am trans. This is not always the case in practice, but I found that using this mental framework in advance of these types of conversations can feel empowering and help you approach people with confidence.

If you approach people with respect and openness the onus is on them to reciprocate or not.

Complement this with an exploration of feeling like transition never really ends, and look out for part two of this series, coming soon!

Weekly Shortcut Newsletter: Issue #1

Photo by Erica Steeves

Subject Line: What happened to queer history?

Welcome!

This is the first edition of my weekly newsletter, Weekly Short Cut. My goal with this newsletter is to provide a curated collection of high-quality content by queer people, for queer people.

I intend to issue this newsletter only until the end of the year, which amounts to a total of 10 weekly editions. This is a trial run to gauge interest, and receive as much feedback as possible in order to determine if issuing more will be a worthwhile endeavor. Because of this, I encourage you to provide as much feedback as possible. Engaging with the arguments and media I provide here, and telling me your thoughts on them will be instrumental in shaping this site; all you have to do is reply to this email.

This week’s theme is queer history because that is where TransJoy started. I was curious as to where transgender people fit into the greater historical framework. So, I included below a lot of the things that piqued my interest in the subject even further.

I always appreciate feedback, so again, please feel free to let me know your thoughts on this issue.

Quote:

“I think if we meet on the common ground of our unjust position in society, then we can go from there. This is a new frame of reference, a new way of thinking almost, for some”. – Ernestine Eckstein (Interview in The Ladder: A Lesbian Review, June 1966, pg. 7)

Book recommendation:

  • The Queer Bible – Jack Guinness – A collection of essays by and for queer people. Every essay features an LGBTQ+ figure that inspired the essay’s author. These include such historical greats as artist Vaginal Davis, actor Harvey Fierstein, and drag legend Divine. This book, while definitely a source of information in and of itself, also comes with a ready made list of figures to use when conducting your own investigations into queer history. You are looking into these things for yourself, right? 🙂

Article:

This is an article that I highly recommend if you would like a short, but informative introduction to different perspectives on trans history. This particular article offered me a lot of options for further reading and investigation. I now have new people to learn about, new perspectives on historical study to consider, and a few new books to read.

Podcast:

Episode 93 – Gender Reveal podcast with Jeffrey Marsh – This interview with author and nonbinary activist Jeffrey Marsh contains so many nuggets of wisdom that I can’t even list all of them here, but here are my favorites:

  • “Walking into a room of young adults was such a relief because I didn’t have to explain everything.”
  • “We’re literally in our closets.”
  • “It’s never a marginalized person’s job to be perfect.”
  • “You know it really tells me how your parents treated you, that you think wanting attention is a bad thing.”

Wishing you trans joy every day,

TransJoy Media

P.S. Thank you for reading this far! I will be including my Drink and Snack Pairing recommendations for those of you who are awesome enough to stick around all the way to the end.

This week’s Drink and Snack Pairing: Celestial Seasonings Peppermint Herbal Tea and half of a Choceur Extra Dark Chocolate Bar


If you like this sample, you can sign up to receive all 10 issues of the weekly shortcut here.

Legal Transition Step-by-Step: From Court Decree to Advertising Mailers

legal-transition
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Legal transition can be as individual an experience as transition overall. Your location, personal history, and your financial situation, among a million other factors, will influence the process of changing your legal name and gender marker. But I believe there is something to be gained by putting a first-hand account under the microscope.

Keep in mind that this is intended to be something of a living document that I will update as my legal/administrative transition goes on.

For context, I am going through the legal transition process in San Diego, California, U.S.A. and I was born in Virginia (also in the U.S.). A lot of this process is similar to other more progressive leaning states, and there is plenty of overlap when dealing with institutions like the Social Security Agency or the credit bureaus. More conservative states often have more complicated procedures for handling legal transition. Every state and country handles things differently, so it may be interesting to get a view into what legal transition is like in one of the supposedly “most accomodating” places in the world.

When it comes to finances, I was making the most money I ever had when I started this, so I had the room in my savings to shell out for the fees. I also consider myself extremely lucky that my boss was flexible, so I was able to adjust my schedule to accommodate the court and DMV hours. Another advantage to consider is that I own a car, so I did not have to plan around public transport availability and schedules.

I actually started the legal transition process back in August of 2020. I had just gotten a new job under my new name, and I wanted to start the legal process ASAP. After spending a week or so researching the process of a name and gender marker change I couldn’t get much of anywhere. I couldn’t find a comprehensive, updated, step-by-step guide to getting this done. But eventually I found out that I had to start with filing a series of forms (download these below) NC-200, NC-110, NC-125/NC-225, NC-230, and CM-010 with the California State Civil Court system. A couple of days after I finished filling out the paperwork, I lost my job, so I put the process on the backburner. Ain’t that always the way?

Come January 2021, I had a new job that paid more than any other job I had ever had. I started saving as much as possible, but I still wasn’t comfortable starting the process. While I could afford the filing fee, I wasn’t sure how much everything else would be, so I didn’t file the paperwork until I got my second stimulus check. I filed on March 12, 2021, leaving work early and charging the $435 fee to the stimulus card, because the court wasn’t accepting cash the day I went.

When I got to the court clerk’s desk at about 3:20pm, the clerk said that I had made it just in time because they closed the desk at 3:30pm. I arrived that late because I was unfamiliar with the parking situation around the civil courthouse. I also wasn’t sure which courthouse I needed to go to (there are 2 within 1 block of each other, neither of which is labelled in a way that is easily read from the street), and nowhere online did it say that the clerk’s desk closed at 3:30pm.

Think about that for a moment. If I hadn’t received the stimulus, if I hadn’t had a flexible boss, if I hadn’t had a car, if I had run just a little slower between the courthouses, or if I had only had cash, I would have been S.O.L. I would have had to do it all over again some other day. Infuriating!

The Wait

Then began the longest wait of my life. I waited over 100 days for a judge to check a few boxes and sign on the dotted line. I know this was in the middle of the pandemic so there was a huge backlog of paperwork for the legal system to process, but this affected my entire life.

This name change was the only reason that I was having to remain in the closet at work because my workplace only allowed me to use my “legal name” for access to their systems, including email, and every login. I technically could have brought the issue up to my superiors, but I now know this certainly would have resulted in me simply being forced to use the deadname for my access while having everyone around me know that I’m trans. It was explained to me after I came out that this is the only “accomodation” they “could have made”.

Then would have come the constant misgendering and deadnaming by email because cis people don’t read. I know cis people don’t read because even after my email address was changed to my full, proper name and I had my pronouns prominently displayed, I was still misgendered by someone who knew me by my deadname…ugh… My ultimate point in saying all of this is that I was exhausted, and I didn’t have the energy to fight that fight everyday. It was honestly easier being constantly misgendered. (I asked people to call me by the initials of my real name, so I didn’t have to constantly be deadnamed verbally, only over email, and on official forms, which was a small victory!)

After over 100 days, and dozens of phone calls, I logged into the online civil court filing system and was able to see that the decree had been signed. So I asked my boss to let me leave early the next day to pick up some copies of the decree. This parking situation was much easier because I was made aware of some parking meters down the road that is directly adjacent to the civil courthouse. These cost $2 for 2 hours of parking time, non-renewable. So, a reasonable rate, but not helpful for some court appearances that may require more than 2 hours, such as if your application requires a court hearing (it generally doesn’t in California).

If I had needed to take the available public transport, I would have had to get off work more than an hour early, and take most of that time to ride the few miles to the courthouse, hoping along the way that I get there in time to make line before the clerk’s office closed. And my office at the time was located directly above a major transport station!

Luckily, I was able to make it with time to spare. I waited in line for about 15 minutes, and then paid $81 for 2 certified copies of the decree, which comes out to $40.50 a piece.

But, it was so worth it. It was a little unreal, at this point. I sat in the car for a minute or two, held those copies, and just stared at my real name. Right there, in black and white, was my real name and my real gender. It definitely wasn’t a confirmation of anything; it was just such a relief.

The Social Security Card

I had a heck of a time trying to figure out how to get the legal transition process going with the Social Security Agency because the United States Social Security Agency opted to completely close every single field office in the country at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also have a pretty inscrutable online presence that serves only to obfuscate rather than illuminate the process. I will attempt to lay it out here.

  1. DO NOT attempt to make an appointment with the SSA via phone. They will not be helpful even when they do answer.
  2. DO fill out page 5 of Form SS-5 (download below), put the filled out form and a copy of your court decree into a manila envelope with your name and address on it, then drop the whole thing into the drop box at the Social Security field office servicing the area that includes your residential address. This is usually the one that is closest to your address. This is important, as your request WILL NOT be processed at any other field office. You may need to attempt a phone call if, like mine, your local office does not post it’s drop box availability hours online.
  3. DO NOT put sensitive identification documents in the mail, or even a Social Security drop box. (I mean, you can put this stuff in the drop box, but you’ll have to do without your identification while they process your request and send your documents back to you via USPS. So, do this at your own risk.)
  4. DO wait until the Social Security office calls you to set up an appointment for you to produce your identification. Because the hours appointments are offered overlap with business hours, you will more than likely need to take time off of work to do this.
  5. DO remember to take your name and gender marker change court decree, and your current photo I.D. with you to the appointment. Please remember that the SS office does accept work, school, state, and federally issued photo identification, as long as it is not expired.
  6. DO be aware that the staff at the Social Security field office is trained to ask for your preferred honorific, meaning ma’am, or sir. So if you go by anything other than these two, you should be aware that this could be a source of unexpected pain or awkwardness.
  7. DO expect to wait the full 10-12 business days after your appointment to receive your new card in the mail.

The Driver’s License

Immediately after I got my SS card in the mail I made an appointment with the DMV. Luckily, I didn’t have to take any time off for this, but the only available appointments were between 9am-4:20pm M-F, so if you work during these hours, you will need time off.

I filled out form DL-44 through the CA DMV online system (link below), and got a code to give to the DMV clerk. It cost $38 for the processing, and it took 10 business days to come in the mail. Also keep in mind, that I was not able to apply for the Federal REAL ID compliant driver’s license because I am not currently able to obtain a birth certificate with my real name and gender marker on it. So, I am currently unable to travel internationally or on a plane. I recently learned that you may be able to skirt this issue if you already have a current passport under your deadname. Mine is expired, so I can’t use this to obtain a new passport or federally compliant ID with the appropriate name and gender marker.

Birth Certificate

I happened to have been born in Virginia, and Virginia requires you to get a “licensed health practitioner” to sign a paper that certifies that you are “receiving medical care for gender transition”. I genuinely flipped my lid when I found this out. I am deeply offended that as a grown adult, I have to beg a cisgender medical professional to “certify” that they think I am trans enough. It’s ridiculous, it’s unnecessary, and it is deeply transphobic. So, if you were born outside of California, you will need to review that state’s or country’s regulations on birth certificate changes.

Even though I do receive healthcare from a licensed health professional, I only see my doctor through telehealth because these appointment are $150 cheaper than in person appointments. I would literally have to pay $250 to get someone with a State License to sign a piece of paper. I currently don’t have much of a plan to get this signed, but I would like to get it done by the end of this year, 2022.

If you find yourself in the position of needing a letter for your birth certificate, or for your insurance to cover your medical treatments, you may want to look into GALAP. GALAP is an organization that has created a directory of queer friendly medical providers, many of whom are queer themselves. All of these providers have stated they are willing to provide these types of letters in as little as one meeting. I looked in San Diego County and there were 3 providers but all were out of my price range and located quite a distance away from me.

If you were born in California, lucky you. You can update your birth certificate by turning in a certified copy of your name and gender marker change decree, and a completed form VS 23 (download below) to your local county registrar’s Office of Vital Statistics. Keep in mind, this should be done within 30 days of your name change decree being signed by the Court.

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

First Things First

The first and quickest things I changed my name on were my email address, my lease for my apartment, and my credit card. These were the easiest because all I had to do was request the front office of my apartment building make the change on the lease, and Discover made the process for the credit card extremely easy. Discover allows you to send in a secure message in their mobile app to make the request along with an upload of your ID, Social Security Card, and court decree. It took about a week to get the request processed and another few days to receive my new card in the mail.

I set up my new professional email almost immediately after I settled on my name. I think that was one of the first things I did to celebrate! This new address went on my resume, my LinkedIn, and other professional online accounts. Then came the process of removing the deadname email addresses from the accounts I use everyday. I had to go through all, and I do mean ALL, of the online accounts I use and change what addresses could be changed. This process has taken well over a year of intermittent dedication. And I still keep the old address open just in case something random, like an old tax situation, arises. I may get rid of it in a few years when I safely feel I will no longer need it.

After I went through and changed all of my accounts to the new address I decided to close some of the deadname accounts for good. To close a Google account they require you to provide and alternative email address that is not a Gmail one. I used an app called ProxyMail that generates a temporary email address and inbox that works well for this purpose.

Immunization Record

San Diego makes it fairly easy for you to change your name on your immunization record. All you have to do is call the San Diego Immunization Registry customer service phone number, and request the change be made. They will not be able to replace your CDC issued COVID-19 vaccination card, but they will send you a copy of your full immunization record on which should be any COVID-19 vaccinations. This should function in exactly the same manner as the CDC card. SDIR will require you to email them copies of your driver’s license, name and gender marker change court decree, and fill out a short form to document the request. However, once this is complete, your records should be fully updated and mailed to you.

If you live outside of San Diego County, you will need to contact your County’s Immunization Registry or Public Health Office, and ask about their procedures for updating your name and gender marker.

Bank Accounts and Credit History

I was dreading having to meet with someone in person to change my name on my bank account, so again, I put it off. That is, until I desperately needed the name changed because I was trying to purchase a vehicle. I couldn’t risk not being able to make the purchase because the name on my ID and bank account didn’t match. Ultimately, the process was long, protracted, and at times, ridiculous.

A lot of banks make you set up an appointment to meet in person in order to change the name on the account, and Chase Bank is no exception. I got lucky because during the appointment the staff were very respectful. They didn’t misgender me once, and I really appreciated that they did their best to avoid using my deadname. I was in and out of the bank within 15 minutes, and was so happy when I thought it was finally done.

A complication arose about 3 weeks after this meeting. It seems the bank’s system didn’t update my name on one portion of the account information, which I found out and tried to have corrected by scheduling a meeting with a banker in person. I was told this would supposedly be corrected after the next complete statement cycle, so 7 weeks from when the correction was made. I waited well over 7 weeks, and 2 statement cycles. The name was still not corrected.

I made a third appointment to get this corrected, only to be told that I will have to open a new account and close my old one. The banker who assisted me and their manager claimed this was due to some glitch in their system preventing them from removing my deadname from the account. They could add a name, but for some reason could not remove one. Therefore, my only option is to open a new account.

I will probably be going with a different bank from now on, if I can get any of them to verify my identity. I attempted to open a bank account with Wells Fargo in January of 2022, and was denied because they could not verify my identity. They also could not elaborate as to the reason why.

My Legal Transition DID Affect My Credit Score

Another hiccup I encountered is with the credit reporting bureaus, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. These are different than your creditors, as these are the agencies that establish your credit history and score.

These agencies did not register my new name on my deadname’s credit report, and instead established a new (blank) history and empty score for my new legal identity. This is called a split credit report, and it is a very bad situation to have. I mailed in a dispute letter to have this corrected, including with it paper copies of supporting documents (ID, SS Card, and decree). This, apparently, was not sufficient “evidence of address or identity”, so I had to resubmit all of my disputes and include a copy of a different type of supporting document such as a work ID, or a pay stub along with a copy of my Driver’s License, and court decree.

Eventually, my file was corrected to reflect the proper name and I recently received confirmation that the old name no longer has a credit score attached to it. My score initially fell 60 points and has so far recovered 40 points over these past 7 months. This 20 point drop is more than likely best attributed to the hard credit inquiry the car dealership performed on my credit even though I paid for my car in full with cash.

From my research into the matter, a split credit profile does not seem to be a standard problem that a lot of trans people encounter. It may be the luck of the draw if the credit bureaus do this to you or not. However, knowing the way these systems operate, I have a feeling it is easier to verify your identity if you have a more complicated credit history than myself. In my view, the more complicated the credit profile, the more data points with which to verify your identity. Therefore, the bureaus have a better chance of adding your name to your credit history without issue.

Health Insurance

I had a heck of a time trying to get in contact with my health insurance to make them aware of my legal transition because I lost my insurance card. Finding the phone number to call to report changes was more difficult than expected. Ultimately, I was forced to use my old Covered California online account under my deadname. Even though I went through the website, I had trouble understanding where and how to change the names properly. You have to change it twice, once for the Covered California online account, and once to report it to your health insurance.

I then found out that because I had a state sponsored (Medi-Cal) plan through a private company (Healthnet), Medi-Cal did not report my name change to Healthnet. So the local county office had the name correct, but the actual insurance provider did not! I only found this out when I was deadnamed and misgendered by a Healthnet representative during a random phone call from them. I still don’t think they have changed the name. But I recently lost my insurance coverage so this shouldn’t be a problem moving forward.

Advertising Mailers

As for advertising mailers, I recently learned about DMAchoice.org. This website is a tool, offered by the Data & Marketing Association, which lets you remove a name and address from certain marketing lists. You can include your social security number, and your email address, but you are only required to provide a name, date of birth, and address, which is what I opted for. There is a $2 fee associated with this service.

You can also opt out of pre-approved credit and insurance offers at OptOutPrescreen.com. I tried using both of these in order to prevent pesky marketing campaigns from mailing materials to my deadname. It has been over 3 months since I filed both of these requests and I have stopped receiving credit offers and junk mail to my deadname, except from my bank (see the bank section above for more on why this is happening).

Updating School Information

I have attended 2 separate community colleges and I have yet to get my records updated with either. This is honestly the last thing on my list because it has the least (if any) effect on my life. However, when I do decide to finish this up I know one college has an online form you can submit along with the same documents as above (Driver’s License, Social Security Card, and court decree). From there the school should simply update the records to the correct name and gender marker, no further action needed on my part. I hope the other school is as simple as this one should be.

I will also eventually need to update my high school diploma, but I have no idea how I would go about it. I will likely end up calling the school district and seeing if anyone can give me some direction on how to do this.

From the first time I researched the process to now:

Obviously, your costs and mileage will vary.

I hope sharing my story with legal transition has helped you in some way. If this has, leave a comment down below letting me know and you might enjoy learning more about how to find reliable sources of information on the trans experience, or how to support a transgender coworker.

CA DMV Online Portal – you will need to make an account to use this

Turns out, the whole thing is the middle

Photo by Ryan Song

I do not think there needs to be a specific “endpoint” to transition nor a “beginning”. Of course, people define their transition in all manner of ways, each of which is almost entirely unique to the individual. A lot of people do feel there to have been a definitive turning point where they began to transition. But I am not one of these people. For me, it turns out, the whole thing is the middle.

How it began

When I first understood that I am trans I thought I needed to wait until I was comfortable asserting myself as a man to tell anyone outside of myself, or (eventually) my girlfriend. This idea is wrong. This is classic internalized transphobia, which was simply a self imposed continuation of the violent need to categorize and classify every person one meets or feeling one has. This white imperialist culture in which we find ourselves has always had a problem with people just existing the way they would like to exist.

Tuck: How do we stop deferring happiness to [the future] and start just figuring out how to exist in this weird middle time and like find joy in that?

River: When you kind of realize that like the whole thing is the middle time.

gender reveal podcast, Ep. 116 53:00

How it’s going

I have since come to regret delaying my medical transition because even this feels like the whole thing is the middle.

While I don’t think there was a definitive beginning to my transition, I do feel I should have pursued medical steps much earlier. This stems from thinking back to all of the reasons I had for delaying my appointment. And unfortunately, all of those worst case scenarios came true. Albeit, in not quite so permanent a fashion as I had initially feared.

Photo by JOHN TOWNER

I was most worried about getting deadnamed and misgendered, and my biggest fear was starting HRT, then being forced to stop because of a job loss or lack of health coverage. Well, you can probably put together what happened when I finally did get my prescription.

Even though my name had been changed legally, my health insurance was an absolute nightmare to get in contact with. I was only ever able to change it with my local county Medi-cal office; the contractor that actually provided my coverage still has yet to correct it. This caused a lot of confusion and multiple instances of misgendering and deadnaming at the local CVS pharmacy.

I no longer have this health insurance so it isn’t an issue anymore. Luckily, I was able to weather losing insurance without a financial interruption but I did have to reduce the amount of money I save each month to pay for my meds, appointments, and blood work.

An unexpected intermission

I did end up having to deal with an interruption to my HRT, as well. Not because of anything that was my fault, nor anything I could have prevented, or forseen. No, I went a week without a shot because my pharmacy at the time rarely had my syringes in stock. I couldn’t find another pharmacy in the area that had them.

After waiting a week, the pharmacy claimed they had filled the script. They technically did, but the gauge on the needle was way too small. This made using them very difficult to use because testosterone cypionate is a very viscous suspension.

When the script was due for refill, I transferred it to a Walgreens recommended by a friend that is a 15 minute drive from my house. Which doesn’t sound bad by U.S. standards until you know that I didn’t have a reliable vehicle at the time. This meant I was using Lyft to get around and I don’t think anybody wants to pay an extra $20+ just for the privilege of paying $40 for a prescription. Conveniently, I was able to purchase a vehicle before my prescription was due for pickup.

Photo by Luke van Zyl

Wrapping it all up

I was lucky and in a position of relative privilege; I’m definitely grateful for this fact. But, these legal and medical systems have so consumed my life these past few months that I have all but given up on everything else that gives my life pleasure, or would actually further the administrative side of my transition. I feel so stretched that taking the time to remember the fact that, sometimes, transition unfolds in its own way, on its own timeline helps me. It can be a comfort to know that your transition won’t necessarily end even if you lose your job, or health coverage, or your access to HRT, or if you are forced back in the closet. It only ends when you feel like it does, or it turns out the whole thing’s the middle.

Complement this with an exploration of trans survival in a cis world.

You aren’t required to love your body: understanding body neutrality

body neutrality transjoy
Photo by Diane Alkier on Unsplash

Content Warning: In depth discussion of eating disorders, and self harming behaviors

People love to tell you to love yourself. I don’t believe this to be necessary. One shouldn’t be required to love one’s body. However, in the interest of one’s long-term health, one should apply their energies toward not actively hating oneself or their body. This stance is generally called body neutrality. This can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. A neutral stance towards your body could mean:

1. Focusing less on food/calories:

Depending on your particular mental health situation, taking some time off of focusing on one’s food intake can be beneficial. I have struggled with both weight and food control issues for my entire life. I have had symptoms of an eating disorder since I was about 5 years old. Food consumed my life. So, I decided that I needed to do something radically different. I told myself I wouldn’t weigh myself, count calories, or focus on the perceived “quality” of my diet for a period of time. I think I said 1 month initially. This did nothing for my weight, but it has changed my relationship to my food habits.

I have found that after not focusing on my diet for what turned into a few months, I have been able to reduce occurrences of obsessive thoughts around food. When these thoughts do crop up, I am better able to acknowledge them and let them go. This is radically different than the days long rabbit hole of obsession and control that I used to fall down. I have also found that I am better able to psychologically recover from the number on the scale. My brain used to obsess over that number every time I put a piece of food in my mouth, but now I have done a lot of work, and can more readily let those thoughts pass without much distress on the extremely rare occasion I do get on a scale.

But don’t get it twisted, body neutrality is not a “cure”. I will be in recovery from an eating disorder for the rest of my life, and thus will have to maintain daily practices that keep me mentally healthy. This includes not tracking my food or weighing myself, probably ever again. I have tried to resume these practices several times since taking my first break from them. Every time I try, I find my brain falls back into similar, if slightly less intense, obsessive thought patterns. I have sworn off both of these “healthy” behaviors in the interest of healing, and this healing does not have to include learning to love my body.

2. Body neutrality can help in identifying and reducing harmful behavior patterns:

It wasn’t until I took a hard look at all of the ways in which my eating disorders were affecting my life that I realized I have an issue with body checking. Which can manifest in many ways, but for me, comes in the form of pulling, pinching, squeezing, pressing on, or punching parts of my body that I see as undesirable, sometimes to the point of pain or bruising. For example, every time I looked in the mirror to brush my teeth my eyes lasered in on the pockets of fat and skin that have collected around my hips. For years, I would grab and squeeze and pull at this part of my body all while my head was calling my body the worst things. It wasn’t until I consciously decided to call these thoughts out that I realized how messed up they were. So what if that’s what your hips look like right now? They looked different in the past, and will look even more different in the future. Nothing is forever, so why obsess? For me, body checking is a habit that my brain has convinced me does something good. It doesn’t. It stems from severe childhood trauma that I have yet to process. I only know this because I finally took a step back from the mirror, and the scale, and the calorie counter.

3. Using certain Buddhist meditation techniques can support body neutrality:

I improve my ability to more fully inhabit my body by practicing breath control and passive observance of my thoughts. Breath control is simply focusing on your breathing and only your breathing. I usually try to breathe in a specific pattern such as 5 seconds in – 5 sec hold – 5 sec out – 5 sec hold. This is known in the military as “box breathing” and I have found that alternating this pattern with some regular, controlled in – out breaths can help when my nervous system is fried.

Passive observance of thoughts has been more challenging to implement than breath control techniques. Passive observance is exactly what it sounds like. While sitting quietly one simply tries to fully bring their conscious attention to nothing but the present moment. But at the same time, one should not try to control any thoughts that may arise. One should simply observe that one is having a thought or feeling and return their attention to the present. This means not exploring any lines of inquiry or delving deeper into any feeling that one may be having. Instead, you simply let them exist around you like water around a boulder. On the first few attempts, passive observance can be incredibly difficult to maintain for more than a few minutes at a time. But with practice you will likely see an improvement in your ability to feel present in your body, without positive or negative judgement, which is known as body neutrality.

This practice can also help introduce your brain to the concept that not every thought or feeling deserves a reaction. Simply remembering this can help a nervous system that has been primed by trauma to remain hypervigilant, and thus always ready to produce some kind of reaction.

Nothing presented here is new, or my original idea. Each one of the above is simply a technique or tip that helps me with my personal mental wellness. And don’t take this article to mean that I have an infallible recipe that guarantees this wellness. I grapple with insecurity, doubt, and downright hurtful thoughts on the daily. I don’t like my current weight, but I am working on not actively hating myself for that. Body neutrality has helped me learn to let good enough be good enough. And I guess that will have to be good enough!

If you are interested in some quality tips on how to actively love your body, complement this with an article by guest author Emory Oakley, or with an exploration of the myriad ways love reveals itself to us in our day-to-day lives.

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