Tag: trans love

LGBT+ Figures in History #6: Rupert Raj

A triptych of images of a shirtless young man with pale skin, dark hair, and a short beard looking directly into the camera. - Rupert Raj -
Rupert Raj in the 1970s

Rupert Raj’s story is an interesting look into a pivotal time in the history of medical transition. Raj was born in 1952 and began pursuing medical transition in 1971. Because he was only 19 years old at the time, New York State required written consent from an older family member to obtain an appointment with an endocrinologist in order to receive hormone therapy. In the 1970s there was an extremely small body of scientific work on the trans experience, and even less understanding of trans people’s specific needs than there is today. During this time, trans people were also often excluded from LGB action groups, so a few trans and gender expansive people started organizing their own political action groups.

Raj participated in this wave of community action throughout college, and in January 1978, he started an organization for trans people (including trans men and women, as well as cross-dressers), called the Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Transsexuals (FACT). During his time with FACT, Rupert Raj edited and published the foundation’s newsletter. This contained much needed information on transgender resources and included lists of books and articles relevant to transgender people, along with tons of other information that was otherwise very difficult to source. Raj was involved with this organization until 1981, when he chose to focus on serving the unique needs of trans men.

A cartoon about penile prosthetics that appears in Metamorphosis Magazine Vol. 1, No. 5, pg. 8

In 1982, Raj founded the bi-monthly magazine Metamorphosis, with which he hoped to serve as something of an information broker between the trans community and the greater scientific community. The magazine aimed to provide information on various aspects of being a trans man, including clinical research, hormones, surgery, tips to effectively passing as a man in public, and legal reform for trans people. There was also some levity in the form of jokes and cartoons, and the subscription even included 3 business card sized ads for subscribers free of charge.

Metamorphosis reached an international audience, at one time having subscribers from as far away as Great Britain, and New Zealand. In 1988, Raj decided to end publication of the magazine due to extreme burnout.

The Digital Transgender Archive, and Canada’s The ArQuives, have graciously preserved digital copies of what appears to be the entire run of Metamorphosis, which you can read here. I am planning on reading these in their entirety and writing a deep dive on this awesome piece of trans masculine history. Should you choose to read these, I would caution you that the language and understanding around trans people and our experiences has changed quite a bit since this time, and these should be read with this context in mind.

After shuttering the magazine, Rupert took a 9-year break from public advocacy to heal. At one point he commented, “No matter how important the work you’re doing may be, sometimes you need a decade off from being a trans person in the public eye.”

Raj re-entered the public stage in 2002 when he founded RR Consulting, continuing his work as an educating consultant, psychotherapist, gender specialist, and trans-positive professional trainer.

In 2017, Rupert Raj made available the text of his international trans poetry anthology “Of Souls & Roles, Of Sex & Gender: A Treasury of Transsexual, Transgenderist & Transvestic Verse from 1967 to 1991.” The volume includes nearly 400 poems penned by 169 trans people throughout Canada, the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

His sociohistorical memoir, “Dancing the Dialectic: True Tales of a Transgender Trailblazer” was first published in 2017; a second edition of which was published in 2020.

Rupert Raj continues his work as an advocate for transgender people, and a community educator to this day. Most recently in October of 2022, Fantasia Fair recognized him with their 2022 Transgender Pioneer Award. This is the longest standing award that solely recognizes trans people. Established in 2002, this award honors the lifetime achievements of trans people who have made the world a safer place for people like us.

A balding man with pale skin and a mustache sits facing the viewer. He is wearing blue square-framed glasses, a brown corduroy blazer, a sweater vest, and khaki pants. - Rupert Raj -
Portrait of Rupert Raj by Maya Sueso

If you would like to learn more about Rupert Raj and his work, you can follow this link. And if you enjoyed this look into the life a trans activist, you may enjoy looking into the lives of other LGBT+ Figures in History.

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.

We say Pride was a riot, but let us not forget that it started as a night out

this month,
i made a queer joy playlist
for my friend because
it’s her first pride
as an out queer person

and i am moved by
how textured
how abundant
queer joy is
and not just queer joy
but queer love too

for one, the playlist was a gift to my friend
but her being gentle enough
to be herself
was a gift to me too

in a moment
when all sorts of “authorities”
attempt to decimate,
to flatten us
into nothingness –
and what celebrations
i’ve found instead
in just a handful of songs:

we know nothing!
we know something!
be in your feelings
feel the way you want to
delight in your body
indulge in new sensations
second (third, forth…) coming of age
you’re pretty
you’re handsome
refuse a label
love a label
you write a new story

pretty boys
handsome girls
sweet tooth
what a read
lip sync
oh it’s you – that first time

freak out
be freaky
shake that booty
embrace weirdos
have your own kind of sex

be held by friends
have crushes on girls
have crushes on boys
have crushes on non-binary cuties
choose your family
heal heal heal

we hurt so good
dream of utopia
see magic in the world
stay alive
take the ultimate risk: leave behind everything you know to love who you are
endless possibilities

you’re that bitch
you’re dramatic
find joy in words like “faggot” “queer” “bitch” “dyke” “monster” “tranny”
laugh in the face of oppression
be a star no matter who you are

let’s start completely fresh, yes?
hold our faith in the unknown
let a new name come to you
yield to softness
respect gentleness
defiance –
to spin hope out of anything and nothing

parties are a revolution
go wild
let’s hold hands
take a new form
find yourself where you least expect it
do whatever the heck you want
(as long as you don’t hurt anybody)
and let me know what i missed, okay?

Complement this trans love poem with a Spotify playlist suggested by the author and a deeper look into trans love.

About the Author

hal sansone is a love poet, mystic, and pre-Nursing student with a love for trans caregiving. he currently spends his afternoons caring for dogs, cats, and critters. he spends the rest of his time existing in a vibrant and inter-dependent chosen family. he lives with two kitties – Fish, an anarchist witch, and Mr. Flamingo, her nervous but sweet protégé. he currently resides on Dakota homeland also called Minneapolis, Minnesota. he wants you to know that he loves you, whoever you are. forthcoming: featured poet (gris literatura), actor/maker in “Light My Way” (Sandbox Theatre), “winter garlic” micro chapbook (Ethel)

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

body neutrality transjoy
Photo by Diane Alkier on Unsplash

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

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

1. Focusing less on food/calories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All I Know Is Love

is love

All I know is love. Every feeling I have is based in love. I know I’m a romantic, but I cannot imagine making any decision that isn’t based in the timeless, endlessly-facted emotion referred to, in English, simply as love. The Ancient Greeks used at least eight distinct words for different brands of love, from the love of the self (philautia) to the withstanding love between long-term partners (pragma). Sanskrit famously collects 96 individual words to characterise the nuances of love, including erotic love (काम kama), maternal love for a child (स्नेह sneha), and the love between friends (सौहार्दम् sauhardam). In Arabic, there are eleven stages of love describing the initial attraction to another person (الْهَوَى al-hawa) through the heights of passion (اللعَاج sha’af) to the insanity of an obsessive love (الْهُيُوْمُ huyum).

My deep fascination with love as a concept can probably be described similarly to the Greek agape, a universal, unconditional love known in Christianity as God’s love for all humans, which, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, “necessarily extends to the love of one’s fellow humans.” I am so deeply affected by the emotions of other people. This could be the outcome of any number of things: Childhood trauma, being especially empathic, or just another symptom of underlying autism. But perhaps I just love and care for everybody I welcome into my heart so deeply that I adopt their feelings as my own. To understand, compassionately, the truth of the struggle they are going through, or to lighten their load, perhaps.

“Society says that love is one way and very black and white, but we all know that love is a bustling highway and bursting with all vivid colors…. We are all different with different beliefs and a different story to us all, but we are connected through that and our love for each other draws us closer.”

Cece mcdonald, trans activist

I fall a little bit in love with so many people I encounter throughout my day to day life. That love never entirely fades, like the ghost of erased pencil markings in a book, or a faint scar. Forgotten until observed. Reflected upon. Past friendships and lovers I no longer speak to still hold a space in my heart reserved always for them. I feel it would be insincere of me to dismiss the care and intimacy we once shared, as if all the private confessions we made meant nothing, as if I didn’t once feel at home in their arms. Love may change, but it does not disappear.

“Love is unending and cannot be avoided.”

cece mcdonald, trans activist

In recent years I have taken cautious (and occasionally fumbling) steps into the world of polyamory — romantically loving more than one person at once — and it has been both a profound and painful experience, at times. Nothing quite prepares you for the level of self-reflection this practice of love inherently elicits. What does it mean to love, really? What is love practically? How do people experience different kinds of love? How do we experience it ourselves? How can we make others feel the same? To discover, accept, and actively practice an expression of love outside the norm of our present society feels radical not only because I am acting against what is expected of me, but also because I am left with no choice but to turn inward, to explore new forms of self-love, and to unpack the darker corners of my feelings that endanger love for myself and for those around me. Jealousy, fear of rejection, sexual uncertainty, isolation from community. We grow into these shadow feelings, trying to shape the love we find to be the love we expect.

Of course, love is never what we expect. It never plays out like in the ninety-minutes of a romantic comedy or a family drama. Love doesn’t stop growing at a certain point. There are no goalposts for love. It is messy, eternal, fierce, and confronting. Love inspires us to be better people, to create a better world. Love inspires art, determination, transition — in all its forms. Love has made poetry spill from my pen, sweet nothings gush from my lips, fire course through my veins, and tears spill over cheeks that hurt from smiling. Love, for self and community, is where I found the strength to begin my transition at only seventeen, in a conservative country town, knowing no other trans people. Love is where my mother planted the seeds of freedom and identity after an abusive first marriage — she and her new wife now stand as pillars of my belief in love.

I don’t pretend love is always easy and beautiful. Love and hurt have such a close connection in our society, which values the individual, the isolated. We are forced to gamble with our hearts with no guarantee or understanding that exposing our vulnerabilities to the world has its consequences, its effects on other lives. Some of the occasions I’ve been most aware of how big and uncontrollable my heart can be, has been when it aches the most.

Love has sealed my lips in fear of hurting another, and kept them closed when another’s love caused harm. I have been so afraid of losing love that I have sabotaged it before it could have the chance to destroy me. Is love, therefore, something to be feared? Something to step lightly around the edges, never diving in too deep lest we can no longer clamber back out to the safety of emotional distance? I don’t believe so.

We are constantly surrounded by love, constantly striving for it. My political worldview aligns with the international socialist movement, as this is the truest form of humanism I think there is, and because I want to create a world that is open for us to express ourselves truly, to be vulnerable and be loved for it. A world in which those living in hardship, oppressed economically and socially, are welcomed with open arms no matter where they place their feet, where we can achieve our dreams and feel the integral part we play in the lives of others. I want this world to exist simply because people deserve love and community. A German proverb states that “love is above King or Kaiser, lord or laws.” The arbitrary distinctions that are drawn up to separate us, to make us fear one another, breaks my heart. But love and solidarity can be found everywhere. It takes a fight to expand our capacity for love, to keep it glowing and alive, to share that light with others, no matter how different to us they may be. In the words of Che Guevara himself: “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love… We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.”

My heart is constantly overflowing with love. I know I love many — not just my two beautiful partners, but family, friends, classmates and supervisors, my doctor who prescribes my hormone therapy and the friendly pharmacist who dispenses it to me, the hospitality workers that keep me nourished, and every pair of hands before them who have built such a beautifully interconnected world. I can feel the love brimming inside me, but like anyone else, I am sometimes at a loss for how to harness and express all of that burning emotion. The best I can do is be kind to those who cross my path, do what I can to be there for my loved ones, and fight like hell for the world I believe in, that future predicated on love for all. Love, like revolution, is not easy, but it is necessary.

Wear your heart on your sleeve. Call your parents, your siblings, your chosen family. Hold your lover a little tighter. Hug your friends a little longer. Read a romance novel and squeal in delight when the heroes finally kiss. Join an action for an environmentally stable future. Stand up for your rights and the rights of other oppressed and exploited communities. Stand up for your own feelings when someone hurts you, strengthen that relationship. Love yourself. Tend to your needs and boundaries. Care for yourself the way you would care for others. Love is endless, in all of us. Share it as broadly as possible. Leave pieces of it wherever you go, you won’t run out. Find it in everything you see and do, in everyone you meet.

Find love. Breathe it, embody it, nurture it.

Love will always find you in return.

is love

Complement this read with another piece by a guest author called “Broken Boy Blue”, or with a short exploration of the concept of self-love.

The Act of Creation

the act of creation
Object Names: M16, Eagle Nebula, NGC 6611 Image Type: Astronomical Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

I love that there are so many trans artists out there. The act of creation lends itself naturally to the trans experience. Not because we “invent” new identities out of thin air, but because the act of transforming one’s thinking about oneself necessitates some amount of creativity. Anyone that has made art for any amount of time can understand that art simply cannot exist in a vacuum. Every part of the process is influenced by innumerable factors, from the artist’s personal perspective, to the logistical limitations of the medium that one chooses for the piece.

Transition feels much the same. You can do your best to put your transness into a vacuum in your mind. You can try to isolate the feelings in an attempt to study and understand them, but this only works for so long. Eventually, many trans people (not all, but many), feel the need to bring these feelings into the world, and into the consciousnesses of the people around them. Art and the act of creation can facilitate this quite readily.

“To be an artist in the largest sense is to be fully awake to the totality of life as we encounter it, porous to it and absorbent of it, moved by it and moved to translate those inner quickenings into what we make.”

Maria popova

The Act of Creation Can Open the Door to Self-Exploration

Self-exploration through the act of creation was the impetus for creating this site as it exists now. Originally, this blog was going to be a “trans focused” business and financial blog. I know, even I’m laughing. I started writing generic business focused content with a “trans spin”, but that well of creativity soon ran dry. The content I was creating ended up being just another business blog, which I think we can all agree, the world really doesn’t need. And then it took a particularly bad day, but I had something of an epiphany.

On this bad day, I was so down, and dysphoric that I literally just typed the phrase “trans joy” into Google. This was around the time that Elliot Page posted that picture of his first time swimming in nothing but board shorts out by a pool. It seemed like every single media publication seized this photo and just plastered it around the internet as “the epitome of trans joy”. No shade to Elliot at all, he was just feeling himself and wanted to share that. What I had a problem with was that I needed something to which I could relate. A photo of an impossibly smooth-skinned, straight sized, white guy who was well into his transition and post top surgery was not something that inspired any particular joy in me, a trans man who will never be able to take his shirt off even after top surgery. I looked further afield than Google, but ultimately I was left bereft of a single substantive, relatable instance of trans joy that I could point to. I decided I would write myself into some trans joy, the fruits of which then became one of the cornerstones of this site.

Once I started writing about my relationship to transness, I was hooked. I realized this simple act of creation could be a key to understanding what I was going through. Just getting started with writing again reinvigorated my love of other forms of art, especially art made by other trans people.

Creation Can Inspire Connection with a Community

I am autistic. I do not generally enjoy much company, and I struggle with making friends. But, once I dove headfirst into creating I found that there were plenty of other people who felt similarly. There are so many neurodivergent trans people online, and online communication can be a bit easier for many people, myself included.

Beyond the practical aspects of connection, there is a spiritual aspect to the act of creation. Creative work can bring with it a sense of control when every other aspect of life feels turbulent. When I started writing again, it took a good long while but eventually, I felt like I had a handle on some part of my life, because I knew what I was writing and when. I was writing things that inspired me spiritually, and piqued my intellectual curiosity. It was this foundation of renewal and strength that allowed me to finally feel like I had the energy and space to reach out to other people. I have made a couple new connections with people that I am very glad to have met. These relationships are in their early days, but even if I never hear from any of these people again, I am very glad that my writing was able to facilitate these introductions.

Your World Expands When You Engage in Creativity

the act of creation
Samuel Jackson
The Dawn of Creation, 1830s

I credit my art with some of the biggest instances of personal growth I’ve been through. My first memory of intentionally creating artwork that was more than a crayon drawing was the first short story I ever wrote. One evening, eight year old me was bored and alone in my room, as usual. So, I sat down, pulled out a pen and paper, and wrote a short, slightly rambling story about an anthropomorphized cat who was himself an author. (I distinctly remember that this humanoid cat used he/him pronouns.)

This first call to the act of creation was the spark of passion which I still hold for art in most of its mediums. The next school year my teacher started giving free art lessons after school, during which she gave us a solid foundation on the history of Western art, and also gave me the chance to try drawing with pastels, and painting with acrylics for the first time. My teacher asked if she could submit some of my drawings to a contest at the county fair, in which I managed to get my first ever award. I was not an athletic child, and until that point had not won or even placed in any sort of competition. But with art, I was able to get my first ever “Second Place” ribbon.

The summer vacation following that school year was the first one my sibling and me didn’t spend with our father, so my mother had to arrange for a babysitter. This sitter was already slated to volunteer at some art classes at the community center, so my mother just told her to bring me along. This class also provided me the opportunity for many firsts. I worked with clay for the first time, and I think I still have the two little mouse figurines I made. I learned even more about art history, this time including art from cultures outside of Western Europe. While this was definitely not the first time I encountered art outside of the Western corner of the art world, this was the first time I studied anything other than Western art in a semi-academic context.

This class broadened my view of the art world, certainly, but it also gave me one of my first opportunities at independence. Because my sitter was a volunteer, she was busy at the community center both before and after the class, so I had a good amount of time to myself. My sibling decided they were old enough to stay home alone, so I was truly independent. Sometimes, I even had a little bit of pocket money because my mother would occasionally give me whole dollar for a snack. These are some of the few good memories I have of this time in my life, and it is not lost on me that art was always at the center of them.

Let’s fast forward to this past year. I started writing again, but I also started looking for other creatives to connect with. Once I started drawing through lines between the content I was consuming and the experiences of the people with whom I was connecting, I realized that my understanding of the world was more limited than I thought.

What Radicalized Me? The Act of Creation

the act of creation
Button, Votes for Women, Women’s Political Union. PL*242991.017.

This title is a bit of an oversimplification, but the heart of it holds true. The act of creation is not the sole reason I am a radical leftist, but art has opened my eyes to the breadth and variety of “the trans experience”. Meaning, there is no singular “trans experience”. There simply couldn’t be. Trans people are present in every culture, tradition, family type, and race on this earth. Anyone, anywhere, at any point in time could be transgender or otherwise gender nonconforming.

If we accept the truth of this fact, we understand that trans art is one of the few actions that has the capacity to be a truly universal part of being trans. Every human has the potential to make art, and channel their personal experiences through an artistic medium. I also like to believe that every person has the capacity to appreciate beauty in some form. When we allow the creative works of others into our consciousness, we can open opportunities for connecting to experiences that are vastly different from our own. A white person, like myself, can never understand what it is to move through this world being coded as Black, but engaging with the creative works of Black artists is one of the many avenues people have to gain insight into what that artist has to say about their experiences.

The same can be said for one’s gender. Someone who has questions about themselves may do well to engage with the perspectives of people at all stages of their transition. This is one of the only viable remedies to the sometimes violent transphobia that many of us have been force fed. When I first went public with my transness (meaning I told my girlfriend), I was stuck on trying to figure out why I struggled so much with my gender as a kid. Among other things, a big reason I didn’t bother to address my feelings is because for a long time, I didn’t think I “qualified” as a trans man because back then, I wasn’t comfortable asserting myself to others as a man.

Of course, I now know I was terribly off base with this line of thinking. This is a textbook example of internalized transphobia. Art and engaging with the creative works of a variety of people, especially nonbinary people, was the main factor in changing my thinking. I now know that I am not obligated to insist that I’m a man, even though I do currently describe myself and wish to be described this way. I know that I am allowed to just exist as myself, in whatever way makes me the most comfortable and safe, because I have now seen many people who exist this way.

Once I accepted this ability to exist as a possibility for myself, it suddenly became very important to me that I help ensure all trans people have this possibility. This means that in order to make the world a safe, and healthy place for any trans person, we need to take into account the experiences of all trans people without expecting the most oppressed among us to teach the least oppressed among us how to do this. It is on white trans people who identify with the white cultural conceptualizations of gender (who some people call “binary trans people”) to do the leg work of expanding our own perspectives. In my opinion, engaging with art and in mutual aid actions are two of the most important and impactful means of making this world a better place for everyone.

Trying the Act of Creation Yourself

So, I cannot say that art, itself, radicalized me. However, I can say that it has been the biggest facilitator of personal, political, and intellectual growth in my life to date. Given this reality, I strongly encourage you to engage further with the creative works of others. Here are some examples of actions you can take to start this process:

  1. Follow the social media accounts of artists from all different backgrounds, races, and economic statuses. There’s a big, wide world out there. We can’t all afford to physically explore it, so the next best thing is to actually read and engage with art and creations from people who lead different lives from ourselves.
  2. Create something yourself. Find a medium that you’re curious about and are able to access. Social media works well for exploring the ins and outs of different mediums. Heck, even making pretty slime can be an artistic act.
  3. Engage in mutual aid. There are a ton of ways you can do this. If you are white and financially capable of doing so, I highly encourage you to educate yourself further on the matter of reparations, and give a portion of your income (1-2% per month) directly to BIPOC, or to a local mutual aid organization that supports these populations. But don’t get it twisted, monetary donations are not the only way to engage in mutual aid. Start a local carpool, offer to buy food for a neighbor, offer to text someone who is visiting with family that is difficult for them, or look into the myriad other ways to provide (and accept) mutual aid. Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

“As my friend Julian puts it, only half winkingly: “God blessed me by making me transsexual for the same reason God made wheat but not bread and fruit but not wine, so that humanity might share in the act of creation.”

Daniel Mallory Ortberg, Something That May Shock and Discredit You

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.

Everyday Trans Joy: Trans love is still resistance

Trans people can experience love. Trans people can experience joy because they are trans. And yes, cis people can love trans people.

I never thought I would find more to say on these ideas than the above. To me, they are self-evident. But apparently, many, many cisgender people do not understand these concepts. There have been so many transgender people that have pointed this out over the years, and it seems that the greater culture still isn’t hearing us. In an interview with journalist Tuck Woodstock, author Jeffrey Marsh tells us about a time when another interviewer asked them if they hoped to find love.

Jeffrey: It’s so funny because I think I know the clip you’re talking about. I think the interviewer even was like, “you know I hate to have such a traditional mindset but do you hope to have a partner?” It’s like what are you talking about? We’re human beings. Anyway.

Tuck: I’m very traditional, but do you hope to experience love (laughing)?

Jeffrey Marsh, Gender Reveal Ep. 93 25:30

And this same question has been asked of every part of the LGBTQ+ community for as long as we have been publicly visible. One of my favorite quotes of all time is Harvey Fierstein’s response to a really ridiculous question by Barbara Walters.

“Those are not heterosexual experiences and those are not heterosexual words. Those are human words. Love, commitment, family, belong to all people.”

Harvey Fierstein, Interview with Barbara Walters 1983

I only recommend you watch the full interview if you want a sense of where the public perception of gay people was back then, how far it has come since 1983, and how many of these same questions are being asked about trans people today.

I am not the first person to say that trans people love. We will be saying this as long as we love. Because as long as some cisgender people continue this rhetoric that all queerness leads to is pain and suffering, we will continue to shout it from the rooftops that we love and are lovable.

“I am transgender and this doesn’t mean that I am unlovable.”

Lana Wachowski

I credit the deliberate campaign of some people who feel threatened by our very existence as the reason that this ridiculous idea continues to permeate the zeitgeist to this day. I feel extremely strange to be addressing this specific issue. I am old enough, and from a conservative enough area, to remember when society at large was asking these same questions about gay people.

“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.”

Gayle Madwin, queerbychoice.com

But what’s worse is that the people who call us “unlovable” are likely some of the very same people who claim we have gone too far in accepting transgender people. How could we have gotten this far without love? People who love trans people, trans people who love themselves, how would societal acceptance of trans people have been possible at all if trans people were inherently unable to love and be loved?

I am not writing this for people who think we are unlovable. I am not even writing this for those of us who are comfortable with ourselves. I write this for the people who have lived in an entirely cis world, until they started to question their internal dialogue. I am declaring, once again, that trans people are inherently lovable because I was fed the lie that transition is all pain and suffering. I was fed the lie that there is no joy, love, and light in being trans. That trans people are killed, by suicide and murder. That trans people are discriminated against. Sometimes, all of this is true, much more than it should be. However, there is a side of transness that people who call us unlovable don’t want you to see.

The very existence of the great many self-assured, confident, joyous trans people in this world is a form of direct resistance to this narrative.

Trans joy is resistance, trans love is resistance, trans existence is resistance.

But it shouldn’t have to be. Consider why these people, and ideas have been removed from the view of the majority of cis discourse. There are systems, well-funded and hidden from the view of greater society, that actively work to muffle and silence the voices of the trans community because they see it as their Biblical duty to do so. Don’t just take my word for it, take look at the deeply researched series that Imara Jones, and the team at Translash Media, put together on the anti-trans hate machine.

Even in the face of all of this, still there is trans joy. Still there is trans love. Still there are trans people. And still we persist.

Complement these musings on trans love with an exploration of why “passing” doesn’t define your transition.

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