Tag: LGBT Page 1 of 2

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.


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 -


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.

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!

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.


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.

LGBT+ Figures in History #5: Bobbie Lea Bennett

Image credit: zachozma.com/lavender

Bobbie Lea Bennett and her contribution to history may seem like a small one on it’s face, but it was in fact, monumental. She is best remembered for forcing the United States Medicare system to consider covering gender affirming surgeries.

As opposed to previous (unsuccessful) attempts to obtain Medicare coverage for gender affirmation surgeries, Bobbie Lea occupied the uniquely advantageous position of already being a Medicare recipient. She did not need to build the case that transsexuality was itself a disability. This forced Medicare to address the singular issue of gender affirming surgeries.

In 1978, after mobilizing media interest in disability rights in her favor, she literally pushed her case into the faces of government administrators. She set off on a cross country road trip from San Diego to the Baltimore, Maryland offices of Thomas M. Tierney, the director of Medicare at the time. During the meeting, Tierney assured Bobbie Lea that a committee was assessing her case. Three days after this meeting, Bennett received a check in the mail. Medicare denied that this check was to cover Bennett’s surgery, instead claiming that they were simply correcting an error.

Bobbie Lea Bennett is best remembered for this particular instance of activism but she dedicated her life to the pursuit of liberation. In 1985, she founded the St. Tammany Parish Organization for the Handicapped, which served the interests of wheelchair users, and other disabled persons that lived within St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. This organization has since been dissolved.

We don’t have much more in the way of facts about Bobbie Lea’s life, but she is remembered as a beloved wife, and mother to 2 children.

Complement this with a look into the life of another often overlooked activist, Ernestine Eckstein, or the great Miss Major Griffin-Gracy.

LGBT+ Figures in History #4: Thomas(ine) Hall

Thomas(ine) Hall

Thomas(ine) Hall has a fascinating story. A lot of historical accounts still require more strict verification, however, it is generally accepted that Thomas(ine) was born Thomasine Hall sometime around 1603 in Newcastle upon Thyne, England. According to their own account, though they were born intersex, Thomasine was raised as a girl and trained in traditional women’s crafts such as lace making, and needlework.

The first recorded instance of Thomas(ine) adopting traditionally male dress, name, and pronouns was when they cut their hair, and “changed into the fashion of a man” in order to join a brother in the military. Upon returning to England from the service, Thomas(ine) again resumed the lifestyle of a woman.

In or around the year 1627, Hall took an opportunity to resettle in Jamestown, Virginia, dressed as a male indentured servant, ultimately moving to a smaller settlement on the James River. At the time, there was likely more work available on tobacco plantations for people who were coded as male. However, it appears that Hall remained fluid in their gender expression by occasionally being seen about in women’s attire. In explanation of this particular “quirk”, Thomas(ine) Hall offered what I consider to be one of the best historical quotes ever: “I goe in womans apparel to get a bitt for my Catt”. This has been interpreted as meaning that women’s attire allowed Hall to enjoy sexual relations with people with penises.

Eventually, this flaunting of current social norms caught up with Hall. They were accused of having had sexual relations with a maid. Apparently, the gender of the offender became a matter of criminal responsibility. The legal system of the time stated that if Hall was a man, they could then be charged for sexual misconduct with a servant, but women were deemed incapable of committing this particular type of crime. The “criminal investigation” into this matter consisted of the townspeople taking it upon themselves to examine Hall’s anatomy without their consent, possibly while they were sleeping. Despite a prominent local man determining that Hall was not a proper man, this did nothing to change the townspeople’s desire for punishment, and led the villagers to take the case to the Quarter Court of Jamestown. After hearing from several witnesses, as well as from Hall, the court handed down a punishment inconsistent with legal precedent at the time. The court ruled that Hall was of a “dual nature”, and where usually these offenders were made to choose one gender, Hall was punished in a rather unusual manner.

The court determined that Hall would go by the name Thomas(ine) and “goe clothed in man’s apparell, only his head to bee attired in a coyfe and croscloth with an apron before him”. Meaning that Hall was made to wear both men’s and women’s clothing simultaneously, essentially branding them a permanent outcast.

Not much is known about this person’s life after this controversy, but I like to believe that they hit the road and continued to get a bit for their cat.

Complement this with the curious story of The Public Universal Friend, or an argument for the joys of not passing.


https://wams.nyhistory.org/early-encounters/english-colonies/thomas-ine-hall/ – CW: If you do choose to look at this source, it is rife with cisnormativity. The author consistently uses either “she/her” or “he/him” pronouns (when we know that this person’s identity was more fluid than these terms), and describes intersex genitalia in a rather offensive manner.

The Old Trans Survival Strategy of “Spontaneous Transition”

trans survival
Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

I am always fascinated by stories of trans survival and the ways in which trans and gender nonconforming people attempt to explain their experiences with gender to cis people. There’s a consensus among trans people that cisgender people generally never even bother to question their gender, or how they know that they are their gender. They just don’t put much thought into it. This gives me a sense of kinship with other sexual minorities. Straight people do not generally put much thought into their sexuality, because they have the privilege of remaining ignorant. The same appears to be the case for cis people.

Never having bothered to question one’s gender means that you aren’t even ready for Gender 101, you need the remedial course. You need to understand just how divorced the concepts of sex and gender really are. You need to understand that both sex and gender are social constructs. Even though they may serve some useful purposes, they are completely made up, and both are more of a mass system of classification and communication than any kind of quality inherent to one’s personhood.

The need for educating cis people on these particular facts is made even more apparent when one becomes aware of the old trans survival strategy of “spontaneous transition”. You may have seen a story about this floating around social media. Essentially, in the past, some trans people reportedly explained their transition to the people around them, and greater society, by claiming that they suffered from a pathological condition that resulted in their “changing sexes”. They could have said that they had something like a tumor, or just a general medical condition that caused “this most wonderful transformation”. (“A Man-Woman – Digital Transgender Archive”) But before we get to the specifics of this strategy, let’s take a look at some older representations of gender queerness.

Ancient Trans Survival in a Cisgender World

trans survival
Photo by Mika on Unsplash

Trans people have been here since there have been people, thus the means to trans survival have existed since people have existed. I could not find ancient personal accounts of trans survival, but representations of the concept of “changing gender” are found in some of the most ancient stories and traditions. People who do not strictly adhere to a single, fixed, gender have historically been represented as gods. One of the most notorious examples of this in Western culture is Loki from Norse mythology.

He’s been a fly, he’s been a falcon, he’s accidentally conceived children by eating a burnt giantess’ heart. In a particularly memorable incident, he turns himself into a mare in order to seduce a horse and save the rest of the gods (long story). There’s also a bit in ‘Thrym’s Poem’ in which Thor refuses to disguise himself as Freyja because everyone will think he’s unmanly and that would be Terrible, and Loki replies with, essentially, ‘You’d rather the giants invade Asgard than have to wear a dress? Seriously?’

An Examination of Gender in Viking Age Scandinavia

I feel I should include something of a disclaimer here. It should come as no surprise that the word transgender, which was coined in an academic paper in 1965, is a modern descriptor applied to people who understand their gender to be different from the sex they were assigned at birth. This definition is itself a modern one, as a sex assignment at birth that is registered and recognized with some kind of governing authority seems to have shown up as late at 1811, which is when the Dutch started registering a baby’s sex along with other identifying information, such as the child’s name. Taken together, we can understand that when looking to the past, we should seek representations of behavior without using modern descriptors as classifying labels.

Understanding that, we can take a look at some Sumerian and Akkadian texts from 4500 years ago that document the existence of gala. These gala were priests who today are understood to have been individuals that identified outside of simple male or female gender identities. Archeologists have also found multiple burial sites of people who were buried with objects typically attributed to “men” or “women” whose anatomy did not match the supposed social status of the objects found.

Archaeologist María Fernanda Ugalde has raised a similar issue in her analysis of over 3,000 clay figures from Ecuador, dating from as early as 3500 B.C. Other combinations of physical and clothing features than the ones fitting Western notions of sex and gender were present in those figurines: For example, breasts were depicted with male dress and a lack of breasts with female dress.

Gabby Omoni Hartemann, Stop Erasing Transgender Stories From History

Modern Trans Survival Strategies

trans survival
Dr. James Barry, historical trans icon

CW: Transphobia, cisnormativity, and general cis nonsense

Since we have established the ancient existence of trans people, let’s skip way into the future to arrive at the not-so-distant past of 1868. It is here, in a small town called Waterloo, Iowa, where we find an article in a newspaper entitled “A Man-Woman”. Intrigued, we read on to find the story of one Edgar Burnham, as told by some secondhand source, not Mr. Burnham, himself.

The article goes on to tell the story of a man named Powell and his former wife, one Ellen Burnham. Burnham is described as having “taught music, had a large number of pupils, and was very attractive.” Powell and Burnham were married for two years, and had one child together. They lived together until “at the expiration of two years, when about 21 years of age, Mrs. Powell’s voice changed, she grew light whiskers, and gradually changed her sex, developing into a man, in all respects, as if nature, anxious for a freak, had turned a portion of herself wrong side out.”

The story goes on to describe how Edgar took on his name, moved to Chicago, and eventually married a former music student of his. My favorite part of this is the second to the last paragraph, which declares “The former girl is now a man, the former wife is now a husband, the former mother is now a father…Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and the above simple statement of facts borders so upon the marvellous we could not believe it did we not personally know nearly all the parties.” Despite the extremely cisnormative language, I can recognize that this author seems to have a better grasp on transition than some people in this day and age.

What makes the explanation of a “spontaneous” medical transition due to some mysterious “condition” so unique is that it is such a human explanation. What a human frailty is disease. And to use the perception of it as a means of gaining control over your body is such an inherently trans subversion of the very nature of “illness”. For many, illness can be disabling and overall just a terrible thing to experience. The fact that trans people had to lean into the intractable nature of disease in order to be granted the opportunity to exist as themselves in Western cisgender society is something that I see reflected in the modern day.

I’m sure anyone who has spent time in online trans spaces will recognize the reflex that certain modern trans people have to call their transness a mental illness. It seems to me that trans people who claim their transness to be the result of a mental illness are trying to use the same trans survival strategy as Mr. Burnham to justify their existence to the cis people around them, and thus gain access to much needed resources.

I am not here to disparage those who do feel themselves to be suffering from a mental illness because they are trans. I am not here to pass judgement, only to offer a historical perspective on why some people may feel this way. Trans people have had to use many creative coping strategies to survive, and the medicalization of transition is one of them. I do, however, believe that trans people who have access to modern technology owe it to themselves, and the community as a whole, to grow beyond this explanation of their transness.

I can understand how someone who lives in a violently cisnormative culture would be regularly confronted with the need to justify their existence. But if you have regular, and stable access to the internet, you have regular access to higher quality information on the nature of transness and transition than a simple “you have a mental illness”. Every trans person owes it to themselves to get invested in the conversations that are going on around being a modern trans person. Listening and learning are the best places to start when trying to grow, so I urge you to take it upon yourself to actually talk to trans people, and listen to our podcasts, and read our books, essays, and poetry. We are out here practically screaming to the world what our truths really are and at this point, if you can’t move beyond the thinking from 1868, you have a lot of personal work to do, regardless if you are cis or trans.

If you’ve made it this far you are already well on your way, and I would encourage you to take a deeper look into the nature of trans love, what it means to love your body as a trans person, and facing disillusionment with masculinity.


“A Man-Woman – Digital Transgender Archive.” The Last Sensation, 25 Jan. 1868, www.digitaltransgenderarchive.net/files/g732d9110.


In Virginia, Classism Has a New Face, Transphobia

white elite in Virginia
Photo by Caleb White on Unsplash

My grandfather died without being able to read.

I would like to tell you the story behind this fact which serves to illustrate an event that had a huge impact on, not only my family, but also, the perspective of a lot lower class white people in Virginia.

My dad’s father only had a 6th or 7th grade education because his school closed to avoid integrating black students. Being extremely poor, and having no relatives in other parts of the state, the only option my grandfather was left with was to go to work. By the time most of the schools reopened, my grandfather had been working for years, leaving him with no time, or incentive, to finish his education.

Put another way, he was one of the earliest victims of the so called “massive resistance” strategy of the Stanley Plan, which was pushed through the Virginia General Assembly in 1956 by a group of white separatists and the governor at the time, Governor Thomas B. Stanley, for whom the bill was named. This bill was a direct refusal by the Virginia government to adhere to the federal mandate to integrate public schools, and prompted many schools to shut their doors rather than allow any student to attend any school.

I did not know my grandfather very well because he died when I was six. Given this, I cannot personally speak to how this lack of education impacted his political or social views. But we can take this one experience as an example of the white elite in Virginia sacrificing all of their sentiments at the twin altars of class and race. They literally used the rule of law to punish all of the poorest people in their community in an effort to enforce the exclusion of Black people.

But what was their explanation for this? The legislators claimed they refused to fund public education in the state “in order to protect the health and welfare of the people”.

Community leaders saw themselves as more civilized and progressive than residents of the Deep South. As Jill Titus writes in Brown’s Battleground: Students, Segregationists, and the Struggle for Justice in Prince Edward County, Virginia, “Virginia’s interpretation of Jim Crow was stifling to black aspirations but nonetheless distinct from the racial code that governed life in the Deep South. The Old Dominion, after all, had been the aristocratic capital of the Old South. White elites wholeheartedly supported segregation and disfranchisement but shunned vigilante violence as a threat to social stability.” [emphasis mine]

Katie June-Friesen, Massive Resistance In a small town
Photo by Dave Herring on Unsplash

To me, the above quote illustrates the heart of the issue that many in the Virginian, Christian conservative elite have with both Black people and trans people. We “disrupt” the social order simply through our very existence in what they deem to be their spaces. Or what the rest of us call, existing out in public.

Believing the existence of trans people to be a threat to the social order, makes it easy to cast trans people as not real and simply “promoting a divisive ideology”. Which thereby supports the idea of rejecting us from public life because any good, white, Christian Virginian cannot be seen promoting a threat to the social order!

This is also where we see the enduring influence of the antebellum era social code. Every other type of oppression is predicated on maintaining the social class structure that keeps the white elite in place. The elite go so far as to convince poor white people that the system is also beneficial for them by using racist/ableist/transphobic rhetoric to appear “on the same side” as the poor white people they also exploit. Because if there’s a class of people beneath (or opposed to) them, the poor white person gets to feel superior to someone as well, and is therefore promised social mobility by virtue of their whiteness, and ability to provide profit for the white elite through their labor. Whether this social mobility actually materializes is of no consequence. This promise is offered only to appease the poor white worker into not questioning the structure at large or even noticing how the white elite are oppressing them, albeit not in the same manner or to the same degree as everyone who is not white, or unable to work.

The current generation of parents who belong to the white elite do not want their children mingling with people whose existence challenges the established structure in a number of ways. Chief among these challenges to the existing order is the fact that widespread societal acceptance of trans people would, by necessity, undermine the ability of powerful, white men to oppress people on the basis of sex assigned at birth. But that isn’t what these parents are thinking when they are pulling their children from public schools. They believe they are protecting their children, and in a way they are exactly correct. They are preserving the social order from which they have benefitted and from which they expect their children to continue to benefit. This is the exact same sentiment that motivated the school closures of the ’50s, and continues to drive the recent wave of anti-trans hate and racially motivated violence in this country as a whole.

This is not necessarily intended as an “eat the rich” style diatribe. What I hope you take from this is a deeper understanding of the ways in which the economically elite and politically powerful members of this country continue to use racist, ableist, and transphobic systems to empower themselves at the expense of everyone else. Transphobia is just the flavor of the month in Virginia.

Complement your greater understanding of intersectionality with a deeper understanding of people who call themselves “queer by choice”, and learning more about the history and the enduring effects of this “massive resistance” strategy.




Baker, Robert E. “Legislators Get Stanley School Plan.” The Washington Post. August 28, 1956.

What Happens When Schools Overreact? Vulnerable Students Suffer.

school is not a safe space

I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, school is not a safe space. I am referring to the pervasive sense that if I spoke about my real issues (suicidality, depression, my gender), I would get reported to the school administration and possibly the police. Keep in mind that I am white, and I cannot speak directly to black experiences, but I know that some black kids I grew up with felt this pressure tenfold.

The government has established that while students are on or using school property they have little expectation of privacy from the school. Students have very few rights because the government considers itself responsible for students when they are on or using school property. So essentially the government is the worlds worst parent and we all are just lying to our students if we tell them they can trust any type of school official with any type of personal or sensitive information. The school will use the information against the student in the name of “safety”, and if not for safety’s sake, then they will invent some other reason.

“School districts have been clear students shouldn’t have an expectation of privacy but they haven’t been as clear about what they are tracking, how they are tracking it, how long they keep that information. They really should be doing that.”

74 article, Laird

They already tape students while they are on school grounds and schools rarely, if ever, disclose what those cameras record, and how long the footage is stored. I imagine that school administrations see little to no difference between this practice and monitoring their students computer activity.

It is because of this attitude that I never trusted school officials with sensitive information, and I always tried to impress upon other students that school is not a safe space. I know that this is a really controversial stance to take, but as a former troubled teen myself, I feel I can speak on this.

My own experiences with opening up at school traumatized the heck out of me. I had the school police officer corner me in a private section of the library and question me after I approached the school nurse asking to go home and was honest about how I didn’t care for a teacher because her voice regularly gave me a headache. For some reason, the nurse decided that was cause enough to warrant a police officer’s involvement, so she sent me out of her office into the back portion of the library. The next thing I know, I have the school police officer approach me, direct me to a private alcove, block my ability to physically leave the conversation by putting me in a corner and standing directly in front of me, and then proceed to question me about any “violent thoughts or tendencies” I may be experiencing. I was 14. The whole interaction lasted less than 10 minutes but it made me incredibly distressed and I never opened up at school again.

I’m not alone. This type of overreaction is still a major part of public schooling, and the adoption of technology in schools is making this easier. A transgender eighth-grader mentioned his recovery from an attempt to die by suicide in a school assignment. The assignment was subsequently flagged by the assignment monitoring program Gaggle, and a school administrator was notified that a student had used the word “suicide” in an assignment, without providing the greater context of the assignment. The student’s parent was notified without telling the student that they would be. The student learned this lesson the hard way, he felt betrayed, and rightfully so. No one had ever told him that school is not a safe space, in fact, it seems like the teacher encouraged vulnerability with the assignment (a part of which can be seen here in the article by the 74 million).

school is not a safe space
Photo by Tamanna Rumee on Unsplash

“I was trying to be vulnerable with this teacher and be like, ‘Hey, here’s a thing that’s important to me because you asked,”

the student was quoted as saying.

This is how schools handle sensitive student issues. Thinking a school is equipped to handle things like this is similar to an adult thinking that HR is on their side. HR serves the interests of the company, and school officials serve the interests of the school, regardless if they have convinced themselves otherwise. I want to think that teachers who encourage students to be open are not motivated by malice or ill intent. I think they genuinely believe that they are there to help. They are bought in to the school system. But when push comes to shove, and the school administration requires the teacher to report something, it is out of the teacher’s hands. Many teachers do not consider this before encouraging openness. Many believe that if something is escalated then it will truly be in the best interest of the student, despite all evidence to the contrary. And the teacher doesn’t want to lose their job, so perhaps they need to believe that the manner in which they are legally bound to handle sensitive situations ultimately serves the students interests. Otherwise, how could they sleep at night?

This is an understandable and human rationale. What we can understand from this unfortunate reality of the system is that we need to educate our parents and students on the true nature of public school. I will say it again, for the people in the back, school is not a safe space.

Everyone should go into a school environment with the full knowledge that there is no expectation of privacy for information that is disclosed in school. Personal issues should not be discussed with school officials if the student is uncomfortable discussing the issue with the parents present. That is the standard for the information that students should feel comfortable disclosing to any school employee, or more recently, on any school computer. If this makes you uncomfortable, I encourage you to look further into how our public school system is not designed to support students, but is designed to support the salaries of the people who work within the system. This is simply the reality of running a public school system in a hyper-capitalist society, and we shouldn’t be deluding our students into thinking that the system is for them when it clearly is not. This will only jeopardize the safety of our most vulnerable students.

If you, as a parent or other adult with a connection to a public school student, are concerned about your student, I encourage you to research your school district’s privacy policies, and speak to your school’s administration regarding how they handle students’ personal data. If you are able to, attend a school board meeting to voice your thoughts and opinions, respectfully.

And what do I propose as an alternative avenue of helping the students who need it most? It is very simple, but that does not mean it will be easy. We have to start by making mental health services free, and available to all people, but especially people under the age of 18. (It still poses something of a problem that providers have to notify parents if the minor is seeking assistance on their own, but that’s a different fight.) We have to make information on mental health resources such as hotlines, online avenues to licensed mental health practitioners, and support groups as available as schools make information on colleges. We need to make sure there is a licensed mental health professional on staff before we make sure there is a police officer. At the very least, we need to train all staff on both trauma and LGBT+ issues and how to handle topics like this in a manner that doesn’t jeopardize the mental and physical health of students. But until this happens, school is not a safe space.

Complement this with a look into some actionable tips on how to learn to love your body.

Learning to Love Your Body as a Trans Person

Photo by Sam Burriss on Unsplash

I identify as a queer, transgender man, but my journey getting here wasn’t easy. It took a lot of introspection and experimentation to finally settle on this identity, and honestly, it’s still subject to change. 

It took me a while to initially identify my struggles with my gender identity (I didn’t start to question until like… 23) because even though I had issues with my body, but so do a lot of women, and I am still attracted to men. So, logically I should be a woman. Starting to acknowledge my queerness is what eventually led me to explore gender. 

When I first came out as trans, I came out as nonbinary because fuck gender, right? I didn’t seem to have the same experience of dysphoria that other trans guys seemed to have, and there were some feminine things I was still attached to. 

My Personal Experience with Transitioning

Existing as a nonbinary person in the world wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. I realized that I preferred to be seen as a ‘young man’ more than anything else. However, the idea of starting testosterone was terrifying. I wanted my voice to drop because it was often the thing I felt gave me away on my most masculine-presenting days. But I wasn’t sure how I felt about things like bottom growth (it sounded scary), and I really didn’t like the idea of shaving. 

Starting testosterone ended up being the best thing for me. My voice dropped, my jaw got a little more square, and my body a bit stronger. 

I haven’t had top surgery, and while I wish I was born with less tissue on my chest, I don’t plan to have top surgery. At least not in the near future. 

Some may be wondering why I’d make that decision, especially considering upper surgeries are covered by the public health system in Canada. There are a few factors that have led to this decision; 

  • I like the way my nipples are now. I like the size and shape and how sensitive they are. I don’t want to lose the sensitivity or have scars.
  • Naturally, I have a small chest, so I can mostly wear what I like without worrying too much about my chest. And in the cases where I want to wear something tighter or dress up fancier, I bind. 
  • Surgery is a big deal and a big thing to undertake for what I would consider being a relatively small change. 

So, rather than undergoing surgery, I have found ways to love the body I am in. 

I understand that I have a lot of privilege; I am a thin white boy with a small chest. For many trans guys, their chest dysphoria is debilitating, or their chest is large enough that surgery feels necessary. There is nothing wrong with that, and every trans person should be able to make their own decisions about their body and how they want to transition. I am by no means telling these folks they should simply learn to love their bodies; for many, that’s just not possible, and that’s very real. 

How I learned to love my body

I’ve been on testosterone for just over four years now, and it has taken me a long time to love my body, and, of course, I still have good days and bad days. Here are a few things that helped me to learn to love my body, particularly my chest. Maybe you can use some of these strategies to start feeling better about your body. 

I am a man, so my chest is a man’s chest. 

Reminding myself that because I am a man, my chest is a man’s chest regardless of whether or not it looks like a cis man’s chest, and I refer to it as such. Turn this into a mantra if you have to. Get your friends to repeat it to you when you’re having doubts. 

Also, use language that feels affirming to you when describing your body. I typically say ‘my chest’ or ‘my nipples’ rather than usually more traditionally feminine works for that part of my body.

Perspective makes a difference

Knowing that my perspective looking down at my chest is different from how other people see my chest looking at me straight on. 

I remember one particular day where I was out with my partner, and I kept doing that thing where I pull my shirt away from my chest because it felt like it was too tight, and everyone could clearly see my chest. You know what I mean. Eventually, my partner noticed and asked me about it. I told him what I was doing, and he assured me that my chest didn’t look the way I believed it did in my head. When I didn’t believe him, he took a picture. He was right; despite how I felt looking down at my chest, the picture looked great. 

Stand up straight

I mean…nothing about me is straight. Stand-up gay? It’s natural to think that curving your shoulders in will hide your chest, but it doesn’t; in my opinion, it brings more attention. Stand up straight with your shoulders back. 

Look in the mirror

When you don’t feel good in your body, it’s easy to avoid looking in mirrors, I get it. But taking the time to look at yourself, particularly in your natural state, can help you to appreciate your body. Don’t think about judging yourself on what you have or don’t have or your view on attractiveness (which is arbitrary); instead, focus on the amazing things your body does. While you’re at it, try picking one thing you like about your body. Only one thing, and it doesn’t have to be big or feel significant, but it can make all the difference in building your confidence. 

My body allows me to ride my bike to work in the morning. I am thankful for my strength. By spending time looking in the mirror, I have also found ways of holding my body that make me feel good. Like standing in certain positions that make my chest look a little more like I wish it did. I also notice things that I like and make me feel masculine, like the definition in my arms, the hair on my legs, and my tiny little treasure trail. 

Fake it till you make it

I know this is a bit cliche, but it works, at least it has for me. If I fake confidence in my body, people around me question me less. Eventually, the confidence actually starts to rub off. Go to the beach with your shirt off, change in front of your friends, act like your chest is a man’s chest, and eventually, you will believe it. 

Wear clothes that feel good

Find clothes that make you feel good in your body. That could be a particular style or cut or even specific colours. I find I like men’s shirts that are small enough to fit across the shoulders but not too tight around my chest and in bright or dark colours, never white or grey. 

As I have started to love my feminine self more and acknowledge myself as a femme gay boy, I’ve started to experiment with how I dress as well. I’ve found crop tops that are T-shirts or long sleeves (no tank tops), and a bit looser around the chest are fantastic! 

This can also apply to loving other parts of your body. Find pants that make you feel good about your hips. Hem your pants if you’re worried about them being too short and don’t want to cuff them. Wearing a packer if that makes you feel good. 

Supportive people 

Having supportive people in my life has made all the difference. I have friends who I will text selfies to on dysphoric days who will describe me in ways that feel gender-affirming to make me feel better about my body. 

I also appreciate having friends who will correct other people on my pronouns, especially feminine days. 

Get tattooed 

I got a chest tattoo, and it actually made a significant difference in my confidence. I feel like it visually takes away from the extra tissue I have on my chest. And in situations where I feel like someone is staring at me when I’m topless, I remind myself that they’re probably just looking at my tattoo. 

While these are primarily geared toward my experience learning to be more confident with my chest, most of these could help our overall confidence in our bodies. We deserve to exist in the world exactly as we are at this moment. 

Final Thoughts

No matter who you are or how you exist in the world, it’s challenging to be confident about your body. Even the people out there who you think don’t have issues with their bodies, I assure you, they do. But building confidence and starting to feel that love takes time. Consider just making a commitment to yourself to take one step forward, no matter how small. 

You are beautiful and loved and deserve to feel good. 

Complement your dive into self-love with a deeper understanding of how the desire to pass can change the way you feel about yourself.

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