Today I noticed, gently but poignantly, that I’ve stopped being so upset and angry about the immense amount of oppression I receive on account of being trans. This means that it has become what I expect out of life, my new “normal”, making it less frustrating simply because it is in some way less visible.
It’s similar to how I don’t get very angry about society forcing people to wear clothes all the time and judging our naked bodies as shameful. It’s simply how things have always been. If a new law was passed forcing us to wear extra items of clothes because extra parts of our bodies were now considered shameful, we’d get angry about it — until it became normal. Then we’d just accept it and carry on with our lives. And so it is for me with the oppression I get for being trans, a little.
Despite intending to get to this point, and being happy that I am no longer consumed with pain because of this state of affairs, it’s also a little scary. What happens if these oppressions fade so much into the background so much that I no longer remember them?
So for the sake of saving these insights for posterity, I’m going to describe the ways my life is now different than it was two and half years ago when I started transition: how it is more limited, more degrading, more disempowered, and so on, all because of the oppression that is directed against me. I’ll take some inspiration from White Privilege: Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack and the other “privilege checklists” that followed it, but I won’t copy the style exactly, as I find those articles to be quite awkward to read.
This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list. It’s intended to be a description of my experience.
– I am much more limited in where I go.
When I tell most people I am trans, or when they find out some other way, they often make me uncomfortable in some way, even without meaning to. I notice when someone knows I’m trans because they treat me subtly differently. They might start calling me “he” even if they wouldn’t have known I was trans if I didn’t tell them. This hurts even when I know the other person has the best intentions, because I experience it as a jarring shock to my psyche and a reminder that society considers my gender less real and valid than the genders of others.
Sometimes I get uncomfortable comments or questions such as “what was your name before you transitioned?” (you don’t need to know, I really don’t want to tell you or even to utter the word aloud if I can avoid it, and I’d suggest you ask yourself where that question is coming from). Because of this I often refuse to talk about trans issues with people even when they know I’m trans.
This is, of course, when they aren’t overtly engaging in transphobic acts such as insulting me or telling me I’m not a “real” woman. I’ve often found that people in general also treat me badly more often than they used to before transition, such as throwing me out of spaces I frequent. These people tend give me excuses for their actions which aren’t to do with me being trans, but which absolutely do not add up. In some of these cases, you might think, I might simply be paranoid over what is actually nothing but chance, but it’s clear that the overall trend has been to treat me worse, and that can’t all be chance.
So, because of all of this, I avoid places where I expect to find people who are not trans and are not aware of trans issues. Instead, I mostly frequent the Berlin queer-leftie scene and the trans scene. When I’m outside of this little bubble, I prefer to stay in the closet about being trans.
I’ve stopped going to spiritual scenes. I’ve stopped going to vegan scenes. I’ve been less interested in cooking workshops, massage workshops. I have to be careful which feminist scenes I go to. I even don’t feel welcome in much of the “lesbian and gay” scene (sometimes ironically called “LGBT”). I’m unsure whether I’ll keep going to the polyamory scene (Opencon) but I think I won’t. I still go to the Esperanto scene, but everyone knows I’m trans there and it has begun to feel more like a struggle than something I enjoy.
Can you imagine how this feels like? It feels constricted. It feels like a lack of freedom. It feels like my world has shrunk to a fraction of the size it once was.
– I no longer feel very excited about my possibilities when I realise I’m attracted to someone.
This is particularly the case for the men I’m attracted to (I’m bisexual). I know straight men are attracted to me and that my pre-op genitalia are not the horrid bogeyman most people seem to think. My genitals are just a piece of flesh, and the rest of me is all woman, quite enough woman for anyone. I know this.
But so few men consider me a valid sex or romantic partner. Worse, I know there is the risk of violence if I get close to a man without telling him immediately that I am trans (and I do have the right to do that, by the way – I am valid and his transphobia is not). If I tell him I’m trans from the very beginning, he probably won’t even give me the chance to prove that my gender is as real as the gender of anyone else. Ignorance and prejudice win out. I feel discarded.
So when I see a guy I might be into, I don’t really dare express interest. I’ve noticed I don’t even really go there in my head. I know how this goes by now, and I save myself the bother.
I only recently thought back to how things used to be for me, and it feels so strange to compare how free I used to feel, and how constricted now. I don’t feel free in telling people I’m attracted to them now. I don’t feel like most people are even distantly potential partners for me. It feels very much like I’ve been relegated to a lower rank in society, my privileges taken away.
In practice, this just keeps me even more centered in my little trans bubble (or “ghetto” when I’m feeling angsty about it). I mostly date other trans people. I actually have no problem with that in itself, but of course it would be nice to have more freedom, and my lack of freedom in this matter is a message from wider society saying I am not valid and not real.
– I have to be in the closet sometimes.
This is a big one. Before I transitioned I believed I could live entirely without secrets, and indeed as a blogger tried to live that way. It helped that I didn’t want a normal job anyway. I thought that being absolutely honest would scare away those who weren’t a good fit for me, and attract those who could accept me for who I was. In fact, I believe it did work that way, and still does, to the extent that I still feel able to follow this philosophy today.
What I didn’t realise was that being able to do this all the time was a privilege. Nowadays, I don’t always have the internal resources to deal with being 100% open and honest all the time. If I tell everyone I am trans all the time, I’d probably end up in a mental hospital (this is not intended as hyperbole). Or else, I’d just be unable to have a halfway normal life, as fighting the aggressions and microaggressions of others would come to dominate it.
If I had known, I never would have put up photos of myself or used my real name online. Now, I’m going to have to cling to my original intention never to get a normal job, and hope I can find some way of remaining closeted if I do get one.
Being closeted is, of course, a stress. It means that I can’t engage in conversations as deeply as I’d like, being unable to mention my history beyond 2.5 years ago or really to explain how I feel in many topics that are close to my heart. Actually, I think about being trans all the time, so if I couldn’t voice my thoughts with a friend, that person wouldn’t feel like a friend at all. Besides this, when I’m in the closet I’m often scared that my cover will be blown, either by people who know my secret or because of someone who is good at spotting transgender people and isn’t correspondingly smart about how to respect transgender people. My lack of desire to closet myself usually just ends in me avoiding places where I’d have to closet myself, restricting my sense of freedom.
– My work options are limited.
Currently, this doesn’t affect me so much because I’m trying to make a living as an independent writer. With any luck, I’ll escape it ever affecting me. But if things were different, and I had to get a “normal job”, I’d be incredibly limited in the places that would a) accept me and b) I’d feel comfortable in.
– My access to healthcare is limited.
In those lucky parts of the world where trans people can even get healthcare for their transition needs, there are still barriers for people like me to overcome.
To get hormones and surgery, it’s normal to need to convince others about the fact that you’re trans. In Germany, if I want to get surgery, I’ll need to undergo 18 months of therapy. I was lucky with getting hormones, but I know plenty of people who were made to wait a year before being granted those as well. I know one person who was made to wait 9 years because she had mental health issues and therefore couldn’t possibly be trusted to know what she needed for herself.
This is bullshit. Women who need breast augmentations or reductions don’t go through this. Women who need hormone replacement for other reasons than being trans don’t go through this. The medical system forces us to prove we are trans, places unnecessary doubt on our identities, where in similar things it will simply take people’s word for it. Let it be clear: there is no pandemic of cis people accidentally thinking they are trans and transitioning.
Considering the sort of suffering trans people often go through when they haven’t had access to hormones or surgery, I consider this a form of torture. If any cis person ever accidentally transitioned, that person’s suffering would not have come anywhere close to the sort of suffering trans people suffer every day while being forced to wait for what they know they need. This is discrimination, pure and simple.
– My time and energy and emotional resources are limited.
Being trans takes up an immense amount of my energy. While I could be optimistic and say that these two and a half years were an adventure of self discovery and valuable in themselves, it’s also true that if I hadn’t had to transition and deal with being trans I would have had so much more time and energy to spend on career development, personal development, developing skills, simply enjoying life, and so on. I’ve lost and will continue to lose years that other people can choose what to spend on.
So even if I’m lucky and find a career which won’t be negatively impacted by me being trans, I’m behind compared to other people. Compared to other people of a certain age, trans people of a certain age will earn less, will have advanced less. And of course, having less money impacts one’s life in many, many ways.
– I have to work much harder than other people to have a sense of self esteem.
Society has presented us with negative images of trans people if it has presented us with images at all. (A very few exceptions exist, including Orange Is The New Black’s groundbreaking work). We’re brought up from a young age knowing that to deviate from our assigned gender is a reprehensible act. So the basic, default feeling for one who discovers they are trans is of self loathing. To improve on this, one needs to work hard. Self esteem is not a given.
Surely, other people have low self esteem. But on average, cis men have high self esteem, and cis women have lower self esteem but generally don’t loathe themselves. Trans women have the lowest baseline level by a long shot.
I have to actively seek out positive representations of trans people. I have to actively work on reconstructing the ideas I have been inculcated with. I have to actively challenge the norm and say, “no, I am dignified, I am real, and I like and love myself!”. If I don’t say that for myself, no one else will.
– My mental health is at higher risk than that of others.
Because of all the stresses in my life that I have gone into a little in this article, my mental health is at higher risk. I’ve been through intense depression, suicidal phases, and severe panic attacks since transitioning. These take away from my quality of life and even from my ability to live it. In fact, I spent most of this weekend recovering from a panic attack, unable to go to social events or even to enjoy the nice weather today.
– I know I could be beaten up or murdered for who I am.
I am no longer as safe as I was. When I see a group of rough, angry looking men, I pointedly stare somewhere out of their line of sight and maintain a state of hyper-awareness until I’ve passed them. When I consider a man I might be attracted to, I weigh up the possibilities that he might hurt me if he knew I was trans.
While I’ve been lucky enough to start to blend in and feel safer in public, the fear remains. And I can’t stay in the closet with everyone, so the fear is there too. My life is no longer the same. There is constantly a small level of anxiety I get simply for existing and interacting with society, and of course that level of anxiety builds up.
Overall, my life is restricted, smaller, less free, more anxious, more dangerous, more disempowered, and I have so much fewer resources to spend on things other than being trans.
It is as it is, and happily I seem to have mostly come to terms with it. This doesn’t mean I don’t want to change this state of affairs, though. And I do believe that it can be changed. While to some extent it’s just normal that being trans is stressful and time consuming, it’s also true that the majority of the problems I’ve described here are because of transphobia and to a lesser extent simply because of ignorance (which is deeply intertwined with transphobia, as transphobia prevents us from feeling that we have to spend energy on learning about trans issues with an open mind). So I will do what I can to work as an activist about these topics.
You can help us by spending time learning about trans issues, by standing up for trans people, by considering us valid and real members of our genders, by attempting to create safe(r) and explicitly inclusive spaces, and by being sensitive to the fact that trans people have less time, energy, emotional resources, and money on average than cis people do. If you’re an employer, consider going out of your way to giving a trans person a job. Most of all, just treat trans people like human beings, and don’t let their being trans eclipse their basic humanity in your eyes. Trans people are like anyone else in almost all aspects but their history. See that, and get over yourself and let yourself treat them the same as any other human, and any other member of their gender.