Tag: queer

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!

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.

LGBT+ Figures in History #5: Bobbie Lea Bennett

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.

Citations:

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.

Queer History Deep Dive: queerbychoice.com

I’ll admit I did not know much about this particular stance from this particular time when I first heard about it. Upon looking through the site, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of the arguments presented there articulate the position of “queer by choice” in a way that somewhat reflects the backbone of arguments being made in the queer community today.

“The reason everyone has the right to be queer is that everyone has the right to control their own mind and body unless it infringes on anyone else’s right to control their own mind and body.”

Gayle madwin

“Self-definition and self-determination are about the many varied decisions that we make to compose and journey toward ourselves… It’s OK if your personal definition is in a constant state of flux as you navigate the world.”

Janet mock

The use of the word “choice” initially struck me as a bit strange, because I remember staunchly advocating the position that homosexuality is not a choice in a sociology course I took in high school. (I felt that I was homosexual at the time, but I now understand that what I was experiencing was being trans). Queerbychoice dot com definitely comes from a perspective of queer sexuality, as the author appears to be a queer cisgender woman, but don’t let that put you off reading. This site contains a wealth of insight into queer life and the queer zeitgeist of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and is a great resource for exploring the idea of choice in depth. It has a list of resources and quotes on queerness, and it has quality answers to some of the arguments that people espouse against choice. The perspectives offered on the implications that declaring you are queer by choice can have, even to this day, is a bit of the site that has aged particularly well.

One of my favorite pages on the site is under the question, “When you say you chose it, do you just mean it’s a product of your social environment?”. This page contains an answer to the question that is one of the few references to trauma that the site contains.

“Of course you could argue that in a case of severe trauma, environment can produce post-traumatic stress syndrome without a person choosing to experience it. But if we’re talking about a healthy person responding in a healthy manner to a healthy social environment, then we’re usually talking about someone who’s making choices in response to that environment.”

Queer By Choice FAQ “When you say ‘chose’ it…”

Upon reflecting on this quote, I realized that I have never been in, seen, or been close with someone from a healthy family environment. I imagine this might contribute to why this thought of “choice” initially struck me as strange. Choice has never been a part of my life, or the lives of literally anyone around me, in a healthy way. Based on this quote above, I am led to think that Gayle has a much more healthy relationship with choice than many people. This may be the reason Gayle found it difficult to “know what it means to be ‘unable to change’…”, in much the same way as I initially did not understand what she meant by choice.

The last quote, and the following quotes are from a conversation between Gayle Madwin and Frank Aqueno: “…when people think that something is not an option it is because they keep questioning incessantly whether it really is one instead of just going with it and TRUSTING that the option is there” – Let’s address this issue of trust by thinking about what these choices represent for some people, and at what age these choices are presented. I will not insult anyone’s intelligence by explaining the collateral damage that can result from expressing your queerness, but I will point out that when it comes to gender queerness many people are forced to make a choice to either explore it, or deny it long before they are confronted with their sexuality.

This is the main reason I think the site falls somewhat short in it’s generalization of it’s arguments to include gender. Gender ups the stakes of one’s choices for almost everyone who wants to explore existences outside of the “norm”. (Here, and throughout, I use the concept of “the norm” to mean the cisgender/heterosexual/white/bourgeois conception of the gender binary that prevails in the majority of mainstream Western culture)

I do not believe you can equate the choices one has around living their sexuality, and living their gender because society has always had much more of a problem with public facing “deviancy” from the established norm. There are so many people that will say things like “I don’t care what you do in private but why do you have to ‘flaunt’ it in public?”. This dichotomy between tacit tolerance of one’s private behavior and the rejection of the public-facing expressions related to these behaviors has plagued every part of the LGBTQ+ community, and thus heavily affected the perceived “choice” one has around being oneself. The thinking behind this statement is what prevented the federal recognition of gay marriage for so long. And it is the same rejection and violence that trans people are still facing today.

Sexual behavior and gendered experiences are heavily related, but I argue that they are functionally different when it comes to this “development of the core” self that Gayle and Frank discuss. I believe the policing and enforcement of gender roles, which are different than the societally prescribed sexual roles, serves as a means of exerting control over the populace in general, in the interest of maintaining certain other societal systems whose frameworks were expressly designed to serve the interests of powerful, white, men. In my experience, this means that the people around you, and society as a whole, has systems in place that work much harder to ensure compliance in this particular aspect of one’s life. I bring this up in the interest of shedding light on a complicating factor to choice that queerbychoice.com does not seem to address in any kind of depth. This complication is the reality that the perception of one’s own freedom heavily influences one’s capacity for choice.

The essence of freedom, and our relationship to it, is the heart of this rhetoric of choice.

When I came out to her, my mother told me “Well, you know it’s always been your choice?”, and I assented vaguely. But in truth, no. I didn’t know that I had a choice. I knew I was never a girl, but I was never told I had the freedom to actively choose the social, public-facing role of manhood. And as for publicly declaring yourself to be anything other than a man or a woman, well, that was just not done, what else could there be? I guess I could have asserted myself, but when you’re a child, your parents and other adults around you determine the limits of your reality, and thus your choices.

Sure I knew what trans people were in a vague sense, and I understood the basics in the abstract by the age of 12 or 13. But no one ever told me that being trans was something that could explain my experience, and I never really saw myself in the limited (and hate-tinged) view of trans people to which I had access. What I am getting at, is that for me, sexual behavior was fairly obvious. However, when I was experimenting with my gender expression and using this to explore my gender as a concept, I was still constantly told that that behavior was ok for “girls”, that all “girls” did this at some point, and “you can be whatever type of woman you are”. Gender was seen as immutable, not as something that can be developed like one’s taste for food.

I’m happy to report that my thinking has evolved beyond this rigidity and I can finally see that, for me, I do have the choice to live as an out and proud trans man. And choosing to live out and proud is freedom. A freedom that deserves to be exercised to the fullest extent it can be. But this change took a ton of personal development, some of which came with age and experience, but the majority of which came from actively choosing to engage in queer media, and open my mind to many other people’s perspectives. So in this aspect, I see the element of choice in the development of my queerness.

After a lot of work to deepen my understanding, I arrived at the conclusion that there is little possible in the way of finding a “rational” explanation for gender, choice or otherwise. I personally think gender can have an essence of innate feeling for many people, and the same goes for sexuality. But even choosing to believe this is a choice isn’t it?

Maybe I feel like there can be something innate and there can be an element of choice because I like to center the idea that every self-conscious being has its own unique perception of it’s existence. I cannot hope to fathom the possibilities for variety that this reality of consciousness provides. Queerbychoice.com has so many examples of people who understand their queerness to be a choice, so who am I to question the personal testimony of so many people? I am only here to hopefully continue this conversation on choice and freedom with the benefit of time and perspective.

If we take the rhetoric of choice to truly be about freedom, we then understand that we need to work on ensuring that freedom is extended to everyone. Queerbychoice dot com expresses this very same idea in it’s response to those who say that the idea of “choice” means that queer people don’t deserve equal rights:

“Perhaps the most important contribution of queer by choice people to the fight against homophobia is that when we say that we chose to be queer, we force people to realize that it’s possible to want to be queer. For too long homophobes have painted us as one-sided creatures who experience nonstop pain. To paint us this way is to paint us as something less than full and well-rounded human beings, and they paint us this way specifically to scare others into repressing their own potential queerness. The reality is that there’s much to enjoy about being a member of the queer community and we who are queer by choice want homophobes to realize and acknowledge that.”

Complement your exploration of this site with a visual history of romantic friendship, or a look into the life of a transformative member of both the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the nascent Gay Rights movement of the ’70s and ’80s.

Facing Disillusionment with Masculinity

I know there are positive aspirational models of masculinity out there. But trans men in particular may feel shut out of the positive aspects of masculinity that many cis men expound as the virtues of being a man. I find the general air of bioessentialism, and justification for the continuation of the racist historical patriarchy found in the approach that certain cis men have towards thinking deeply about masculinity to be a huge turnoff to the whole idea of interrogating my own masculine identity.

All of the people that have been responsible for some of the most heinous acts of cruelty against me and the people around me have been men, and my mother was raised by a woman who genuinely hated men. This unfortunately common combination lead to my mother picking up some aggressively “anti-man” stances. One of which was the idea that if she just brought her dildo into work her staff would respect her more. This idea was seen as a way of dealing with the patriarchy under which she was forced to work, and this idea that if she only had a penis she would “get the respect she deserved” struck her young trans son (me) as being pretty damn simplistic and decidedly anti-masculine. It reeked of her mother’s idea that if only there weren’t men, women would be fine, and free from oppression. Anyone who has observed groups of humans for any length of time knows that inequity, oppression, and manipulation are not the exclusive domain of cis/het/white masculinity, and cis/het/white women are not the worst targets of this inequity, oppression, and abuse. This is not meant to denigrate my mother’s experience of chafing against the effects of the patriarchy, but she still held down a job that put her in the top 1% of earners for our area. And she did struggle to gain respect at work because she was woman, but she also held the same well-paid job at the same company for over a decade and only left at her own choice. This is not the worst way her life could have shaken out, not by far. In fact, it is because of the above that I felt fairly privileged during that time in my childhood. Stability, however excruciating it may be, is a privilege.

I feel the above may be able to be misunderstood as me saying my mother should be grateful for her position in the patriarchy. Please do not take my criticism of my mother’s lack of awareness of her privilege as an endorsement of the structure in which she found herself. I only take umbrage with the manner in which she chose to express her discontent. I found it only led to further mental anguish on her part because focusing your criticism of the patriarchy solely on the basis of biology leads to thinking that one has no means of action against the structure. She felt that because she was born a woman, she only need mimic the “biology of a man” to improve her comfort within the existing structure. Transgender and nonbinary people didn’t seem to factor into my mother’s understanding of the world, despite the fact that she was very much aware of the existence of trans people.

She never challenged the structure itself. She never felt that she was in a position where she could. All of this, while others out here approach the structure, and (unlike my mother) are actively refused the opportunity to thrive within in it. Thusly, they are forced by society to actively work to change the structure. Not because they are in any particularly special position to effect this change, but they are simply left with no choice other than to lie down and die, by their own hand or someone else’s. When your life is on the line, it can be a much harder spur to effective action.

I struggled to accept my own masculinity because I lived in fear of the understanding of masculine identity that I was force fed as a child. My father still looms large in my mind when I think about my childhood, even though I last laid eyes on him in person about 15 years ago. I don’t feel the need to get into the more prurient or heinous details of the abuse my family suffered. I don’t think that’s necessary. Pretty much everyone I know has deeply seeded issues like this with at least one man in their life. This doesn’t bode well for those of us who know themselves to be men.

I think one place to start when thinking about masculinity in general, is to question masculinity as it exists in my life today, rather than reject it on it’s face. I prefer to understand the racist motivations, bourgeois origins, and ableist sentiments of the version of masculinity that is currently accepted as this truly non-existent “norm”. I want to explore how masculine energy can show up in my life in service to my mental health, and development as a person, rather than as a set of standards of appearance and behavior to which I must adhere.

This is vital work in which I encourage everyone to engage. Below is just a sample of some of the questions that you could think over to start off your journey into thinking deeply, and critically about your masculinity and relationship to it.

What are your current ideas of what constitutes “masculinity” and “femininity”?

How do you fit into those ideas right now?

Do you feel a relation to the commonly held ideas of what constitutes “masculinity”? (Meaning do you feel you should be called he/him? Are you sexually attracted to people whom greater society considers to be masculine? Do you want masculinity to show up in your life at all?)

Are the ideas of masculinity and femininity useful to you, and your life?

Ask yourself how have men and masculinity shown up in your life up to this point?

How do you relate to the people that make up that representation?

Is your relationship to them rooted in abuse, fear, and/or manipulation?

Do you currently have any healthy, substantive relations with men/masculine people?

Do you have healthy relationships with masculine people of different generations?

How has religion influenced your view of masculinity?

How has your country or society’s history with racism, and colonialism affected your ideas around masculinity? (i.e. venerating one type of skin color, or body shape over another; promoting conceptualizations of people of color as a set of stereotypes instead of encouraging seeing everyone as humans deserving of understanding, and respect)

Do you feel like your current relationship to masculinity supports your efforts to live your personally held values and beliefs?

What can you change to ensure that your ideas around men and masculine people do not continue to enforce the current status quo? (This could be as simple as consciously being more inclusive in your use of language i.e. using the phrasing “pregnant people”, or as involved as deconstructing the manner in which you argue with your partner and realizing that many of your responses are rooted in the enforced sublimation of all emotion to anger because that’s the only way you have seen men approach intense emotions.)

How can your masculinity be used to better serve those around you and your greater community?

Complement your exploration of masculinity with a better understanding of the effects of the desire to “pass” as cisgender.

LGBT+ Figures in History #2: Ernestine Eckstein

ernestine eckstein

Born Ernestine Delois Eppenger in 1941, Ernestine Eckstein would become one of the most important activists in both the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the nascent LGBTQ+ movement of the 70s.

Her civil rights activism began during her time as a student at Indiana State University, as an officer of a chapter of the NAACP. But her progressive ideas eventually brought her to the more progressively minded Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), which she joined upon moving to New York City in 1963 at the age of 22.

Shortly after this move to New York City, Ernestine Eckstein also became involved in the Daughters of Bilitis, the first known lesbian civil rights group in the United States. When she was appointed as Vice President of the New York chapter of the DOB, she came to represent the desire of the younger generation of lesbian and gay activists to see the movement’s strategy move away from private negotiations with doctors and psychologists (in an effort to end the practice of trying to “cure” homosexuality), towards a tactic of more direct action, such as political lobbying and public demonstration. In this attitude, she was on the forefront of strategic thinking around civil rights, and she is quoted as having said that, “Picketing I regard as almost a conservative act now. The homosexual has to call attention to the fact that he’s been unjustly acted upon. This is what the Negro did”.

Eventually, Ernestine moved to the west coast and joined the progressive activist group Black Women Organized for Action (BWOA). This group was one of the first Black feminist groups in the country. The organization was known for it’s conscious inclusivity of all Black women and it’s unique lack of a hierarchical internal structure. Unfortunately, this organization dissolved after members decided that Reagan-era conservative sentiments rendered their 1960s style strategies ineffective.

Not much is known about Ernestine’s life post-BWOA but she is recorded in the Social Security Death Index as having passed away on July 15, 1992.

Complement this with learning more about other activists such as the incomparable Miss Major Griffin-Gracy.

Why “passing” doesn’t define your transition

passing
Photo by Jiroe on Unsplash

I’m just going to come right out and say it: people being jealous of you for how much you “pass” is not a worthy transition goal. This is unhealthy at worst, and unrealistic at best (for most). A better transition goal is to attempt to maintain body neutrality, or body positivity if that works for you. Through basically ignoring my body beyond the attention needed to keep myself alive and healthy, I have found that I can appreciate the changes my body goes through as they happen without giving in to the desire to constantly body check myself to see how much and in what ways my body changes.

If I allow myself to focus on the body as the main vessel of transition I am quickly met with a slippery slope back into the eating disorder and severe body dysmorphia that I have struggled with for my entire life. My body changes pretty wildly every single month, and in a variety of ways each time. Some months I gain 15lbs during my cycle, some months I lose 5lbs. Some parts of me are more swollen than they “should” be, or than they were last month. I can’t even give another example because I have been actively trying to avoid letting this topic take up space in my mind for so long. Suffice it to say that my body has been less than helpful in my quest to “feel like a man”. In fact, my body has been my largest impediment to this feeling.

All this isn’t to say that this approach is best for everyone. For some monitoring the changes your body goes through may be helpful “to see how far you have come”, and this can be affirming for some. One just has to look at the plethora of transition selfies and videos available online for proof that a lot of people find a lot affirmation in comparison. This same idea is also pushed in the weight loss industry as a way to “help” or “encourage” people to keep up healthy lifestyles.

I see monitoring my calorie intake and sometimes even focusing too much on the quality of my food (is it “healthy” enough?) as playing on my obsessive tendencies. Tendencies that have a propensity to bring to the surface a certain form of internalized transphobia that I wasn’t even aware I was dealing with. I regularly catch myself focusing on how much my body doesn’t “look like a man’s”. Yes it does. It just looks like a trans man’s body. It is a man’s body because it is my body. I have been forced to expand my cissexist definition of “man” and found that the audacity to self-define is not the exclusive domain of cis people.

This could easily have been titled “why external validation doesn’t make you trans”. Your transition is not defined by how much you look like a cisgender person. I am not cis and because of this I have to ask myself if how much I “pass” really matters to my perception of myself and my inherent masculinity.

This is not to say that “passing” itself is wrong, or the desire isn’t useful in a good many situations. A lot of trans people find comfort, and psychological and material safety in “successfully passing” or “going stealth” in their everyday lives. This essay is not designed to excoriate “passing”, itself. Rather, here I attempt to offer an alternative to the self-hatred, and dissonance that does occur when one, like myself, is visibly queer and not in imminent physical or material danger because of this. The alternative I offer is to base your perception of your transition around more than one facet, and on facets that are within your personal circle of influence.

Yes, a lot of the time hormones and surgeries can bring on the bodily changes that one should have had all along. But that does not mean that you have to focus all of your mental and emotional energy on policing your self and your actions so as to prevent “looking like a man/woman”. This is just a hamster wheel of self-hatred with a veneer of “transition goals” slapped over it. In fact, I argue that we shouldn’t base most aspects of our sense of self on “not being a man/woman” because this is just unproductive. I posit that one should focus on growing up well.

Part of growing into a mature adult is striking the appropriate balance between having an internal locus of control and understanding the limits of one’s personal circle of influence. Trans people do not have a choice but to work toward this balance because we cannot afford to let other people tell us who we are and should be. They will try, and they will always fall short of who we know ourselves to be.

My thinking on this issue has been deeply influenced through learning more about nonbinary people and their experiences. Because there isn’t really a way to “pass” as nonbinary, this “passing is the goal” problem can’t really exist. (Of course, that is not to presume that nonbinary people can not “pass”. This is not true in any sense.)

For nonbinary people “passing” cannot be the sole factor on which they define their transitions, so they must take a more multi-dimensional approach. This may sound basic to some, but for me, seeing this reality for the first time opened the door to the possibility of a more playful relationship with my gender. From watching, specifically Milo Stewart, and other nonbinary creators, I have been able to get a glance at an existence that isn’t ruled entirely by the norms of cis experience. This idea of someone wanting to live and thrive in a space that is so uncomfortable for me gives me hope that I can be happy regardless of how much my body changes, or doesn’t. And if I can be happy regardless of if I “totally pass” or not, then I can free up some of that energy I was wasting on obsessing over my body and appearance, and direct it towards the more appropriate goal of growing into a decent man, which is something over which I have total control.

Complement this with an interrogation of the disillusionment many face when exploring masculinity in earnest.

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