The Toast’s previous coverage of trans* issues can be found here. This installment was brought to you by a reader.
At the time of this writing, I have been transitioning for three years almost to the day. I say “transitioning” as though I mean it in the active sense, but there definitely came a point along the way when I stopped trying to conform to the ideal of womanhood and just started living a normal life. From the outside looking in (when you’re transgendered and haven’t started transitioning), being a woman can seem like something magical. “Boobs!” you say to yourself. “They’re like fleshy, tear-shaped unicorns attached to your chest shooting out rainbows and happiness!” Or, “Vagina!” you might exclaim. “I would wear the shit out of bikinis and yoga pants and proudly share my camel toe with all mankind!” The grass seems so much greener on the other side from the daily hell of living as a man that becoming a woman can feel akin to a higher plane of existence. Well, having crossed that membranous threshold, I can tell you that it just feels utterly ordinary…but kind of wonderful at the same time.
I came out as transgender about 10 years ago at the age of 22. I lived in Cartersville, Georgia, about 40 miles northwest of Atlanta, because that’s where my parents and sister resided. To me, this period of “coming out” was more seminal (hee hee) to later events because it was when my family finally knew, though I had technically shared it at least several months prior with intimate friends. I brought my mom and my sister to Waffle House (because where else does one come out?), sat them down, ordered food, looked them square in the eye, and told them that I was transgendered. My words had the impact of a truck bearing down on a deer on an otherwise abandoned road in the middle of the night (Georgia, y’all.)
“You better not get AIDS!” was all my mom could muster. My sister seemed fine with it and just grinned before expressing that she always wanted a big sister. I made them promise not to reveal my secret to my father. Several days later, my mom called me up in tears saying that she couldn’t keep it from my dad any longer and pleaded for me to tell him. Caught between a rock and a hard place, what could I do? So, I took a kamikaze approach to the situation. I called him up and waited about half a heartbeat before word-vomiting my shameful secret in one fetid breath. “Hi, dad. I’m transgendered. Mom made me tell you. Okay?” I could tell that he was surprised, but he always answered unexpected revelations with know-it-all aplomb. “I know!” he responded. I don’t recall any conversation after that and we never talked about it again. I was good at avoiding them seeing me dressed as a woman and we were the kind of family who avoided talking about anything real. Oregon Ducks (it’s a football team, I hear)? Sure, let’s talk about that until the cows come home. Your son wants lady business between his legs? Mmm… let’s leave that for the therapist.
Living in a small town as a transgendered individual was an awful experience. At the time, I claimed Christianity as my religion and too many people decided that I needed a lot of gropeful prayer. I remember being pulled from service one time by a female deacon who had heard the rumors and I explained to yet another person that I was transgendered. I guess to some people, the term meant that I was going to grow a monstrous, purple tit-hump on my back while overdoing makeup, helicoptering my boy-junk, and talking like Minnie Mouse in an attempt to corrupt the town’s little children. To me, it just felt nice to finally be out to everyone and I didn’t care who knew. The woman’s brow furrowed into an expression of soul-saving concern and she asked if she could pray (hard) for me. I knew exactly what was coming, but I think if you say no to a Christian offering free prayer, you go to straight to Hell, do not pass GO. She placed both of her hands on my shoulders and squeezed (like ya do), closed her eyes, and shouted her prayer at me. “Lord, help this MAN realize that you made HIM a MAN and that HE needs to be the MAN you mean HIM to be.” Every masculine pronoun was overemphasized and enunciated like Morpheus talking to Neo about his pride-boner for “The One.” I knew that she meant well, but it always comes off as a bit insulting when you realize that you’re fighting nature and they’re fighting perception. It’s a type of passive-aggressive treatment meant to conform individuals to Christian mainstream thinking.
Many people were either openly accepting or mildly tolerant of my transgenderism, but there were times when the Haterade was particularly more pungent. My hairdresser said she couldn’t work on my hair anymore because I was a guy and I needed a men’s cut. This was after several haircuts and colors bending more towards androgyny and femininity. Before this point, she was more than happy to take my money and dye it every color from blue to plaid (yes, plaid.) Now, I don’t have anything against Christians and I support people believing whatever they want to make themselves happy (except Scientology, of course), but morals-based haircuttery seems like a counterintuitive business decision. Another example: before coming out to my family, I worked at a jewelry store as an assistant manager and I was the district manager’s golden boy. We used to go out to lunch, discuss life difficulties, and high-five every single time she came visiting my store. I was well on my way to ass-kissing for a head manager position at a nearby store in the area, but as soon as I came out to her (I was young and didn’t know any better), all of that stopped. I went from golden boy to Poopsmith in one fell swoop, eventually being fired for not correctly turning in some collections paperwork one day (which is about as minor an offense as one could have.) All I did was come out to my district manager and it was enough to tarnish her view of me from that point forward.
Audrey Arndt is a transwoman, an independent web developer, and an LGBTQI and Deaf rights advocate in her 30s living in Nashville, TN. She has two cats, she crochets things, she wants a Cthulhu tramp stamp, and she occasionally makes with the funny.