the trans* series Archive

“A Mythical Creature”: My Genderqueer Childhood

The Toast’s previous coverage of trans* issues can be found here.

It was my best friend, Anna, who I told first. That kind of friendship you have when you’re eleven – where you see each other all day at school, then rush straight to the telephone to call when you get home. ‘Do you ever feel like you were born into the wrong body?’ It was a genuine question – I knew I’d never heard anyone else say it, but maybe I was being stupid, and perhaps other people felt that way all the time. She didn’t quite know, but guessed that maybe she did, sometimes. I told her more, hoping that she might agree – about feeling like my skin was closing in around me, that I could feel my mind willing it to be something else. Then we talked about homework, and The X-Files – and I didn’t tell her the thing I was really thinking, which I knew was crazy, but also sort of believed was true. That I was really a mermaid, and that if I concentrated hard enough, hit some kind of magic formula, then my body would get the message and change appropriately.

The seed of it was planted by my parents – not necessarily my being trans – I don’t have an explanation for that, and don’t think that I need one. But maybe the start of a fantasy that re-emerged when my mind could no longer make sense of the reality around it. Calling me their ‘little mermaid’ was blameless – my other mother telling me that her brother had seen mermaids from his fishing boat and that they were totally real was probably not the best call. Still, I mostly grew out of telling people that I was going to be a mermaid by the end of kindergarten – and though I was (justifiable) obsessed by Hans Andersen, and practiced my best dolphin-style swimming whenever I could, it was more of a familiar and comforting daydream than anything else.

Knowing what I do now – about trans kids, trans narratives – narratology itself – I want to put a neat retrospective structure around it all. We use whatever cultural tools we have to hand – and, for children without words to know themselves, stories of creatures not quite human, who can make a deal to change their form into what they’ve always dreamed of being – that stuff sticks.

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Your Concern About the Exact Nature of My Gender Has Been Noted

The Toast’s previous coverage of trans* issues can be found here. This post was brought to you by “a fervent believer in the matriarchy.”

It’s the dipping point of a late July sunset, and my roommate (and hetero life-mate) Seth and I are walking to meet some friends at a bar. We are both wearing wonderful snapback hats and Seth’s hat has large, O’Keeffe-worthy flowers splashed all over it and mine is a distinguished sparrow gray that perfectly frames my new haircut, shaved so close on the sides and back that I can feel the sunset behind my ears. And we look so goddamned handsome that I want to link elbows with him and find a boardwalk to stroll down. I feel handsome because I’m wearing my favorite shirt too, the one where I can roll up the sleeves ever so slightly to show off the muscles that can now support my full body weight (I work out every other day now, and I can plank for two full minutes and I tell myself that this is metal as fuck because it is.) This peach plaid shirt cuts a fine figure—I like living my life in this shirt. And it just looks so perfect when I wear my binder underneath. I’m also wearing my binder, because of course I am. I’ve been wearing it every day for the last three months, and my body makes sense to me this way. 

Seth and I pass the parking lot of a convenience store, but not before the back end of a car juts out in front of us; the man in the backseat has opened the windows just in time to scream. At me, because of course he’s screaming at me.

“GIRL! GUUUURRRRLLLL! BLONDAAAAAAAY!” He can scream and smile at the same time. He had something he really needed to share.

Among the many names/nouns/adjectives that have been yelled, cooed, barked, and typed at me in the past six months, this encounter is benign and I can laugh it off. I am still so goddamned handsome.

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Dating Other Women as a Trans Woman: Some Suggestions

Brook Shelley’s previous work for The Toast can be found here.

Welcome to lesbian trans womanhood. I know, we aren’t supposed to say that. Welcome anyway. Let’s assume you know two things: that you are a woman, and that you like other women. Good. That’s a fine place to start. Follow along, and we will get you from this humble beginning, to being a real-live dater.

Take a deep breath. Ready?

1. First, lower your expectations. Whatever you think might happen in the next few paragraphs, or in the next few months, expect less.

This isn’t in reference to any particular difficulty facing trans women, though there are many; it is always helpful to lower your expectations. Low expectations mean high excitement at small success.

For example, if you expect to dance alone at a bar, you will be thrilled to find that someone beautiful is dancing with you. Repeat as needed.

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Trans Microaggressions: “Women, Amirite?”

The Toast’s previous coverage of trans* issues can be found here.

Actual Reasons People Have Told Me I Am Not A Real Man

1.) I enjoy musical theater. (Someone should probably call Hugh Jackman and inform him that he is female.)

2.) I want to kiss other men. (Wanting to kiss women and people of other genders as well is irrelevant. The only people who want to kiss men are women. Full stop.)

3.) I don’t hate women. (Quickest way to get kicked out of any male bonding exercise–refuse to respond positively to the phrase, “Women, amirite?”)

4.) I write fanfiction. (Shakespeare based many of his plays on pre-existing works of fiction. Therefore, Shakespeare was a woman.)

5.) I have a vagina. (Thanks for the reminder, asshole.)


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Sorry About The Stuff I Did While Figuring Out This Trans Thing

To my elementary school teachers: I’m sorry for crying all the time. I cried so much that, in second year, my school report read that I “burst into tears at the first sign of trouble”. It’s because I was going through childhood totally confused, of course, but it can’t have been fun for you to deal with as educators.

I’m also sorry that when our school portraits were delivered, I scrawled all over my face with a marker pen and got you in trouble for not stopping me. I still defend my decision to obscure my image, but regret that I didn’t speak up and explain that you couldn’t have known I’d taken the Sharpie from your desk.

To my middle school teachers: Um, yeah, I’m sorry for crying with you guys, too. I really didn’t get on top of the crying thing for a good long while. My bad.

To my classmates at the all-boys high school I attended for two years: I don’t owe you any apologies. In fact, you probably owe me a “sorry” or two for making my life a daily struggle against taunts, pranks, and beatings.


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“I Do Not Know What My Gender Is”: On Messy Transitions

“But when I met you, you were such a girly girl.”

My stepmom leaned across the dining room table and told me this urgently, as if she was offering up incontrovertible evidence that I couldn’t possibly be transgender. 

It was a fair enough assertion. From the moment I was born – the first girl in a close-knit family of male cousins – I effortlessly fell into the preformed mold of femininity: I grew up in a bedroom with pink carpet and a four-poster lace canopy bed; I loved dresses and Barbies; my favorite game to play with my brother and cousins was house; by the time I was in fifth grade I had an absurd amount of make up, and the sleepovers I hosted always involved a make over. I can say that all of this was authentically me; but that is not what I told my stepmother.

“I was compensating.”

As a gender-different person growing up in the arms of Livejournal comment threads, I learned pretty quick that when talking to cisgender people – parents, friends, therapists – you sometimes have to bend the truth to be taken seriously.

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(Trans) Man Whore: A Trans Guy’s Experience as a Sex Worker

Recently in Phoenix, Arizona, a woman was arrested for walking down the street, engaging other pedestrians in conversation. This was a blatant case of profiling, because police accused the woman, a transgender woman of color, of soliciting sex work. For those who don’t know, transgender means a person’s experienced gender identity and their assigned sex at birth are incongruous. I was assigned female at birth, but from a young age I felt that was inaccurate, and after years of emotional turmoil, psychiatric intervention, and drug addiction, I got clean and began medically transitioning, taking the only drug I need—testosterone.

Back to the woman in Phoenix: It’s a harmful stereotype that many trans women are sex workers, and a recent Amnesty International report describes how police often profile these women as such. However, like any stereotype, there are people for whom it’s true. Many trans women, especially those who are economically disadvantaged, rely on sex work to survive. Also, it’s estimated that between 20-30% of trans people use drugs, as opposed to about 9% of the general population. These rates, combined with the daily discrimination against trans people, suggest trans people use alcohol and drugs to cope with the impacts of discrimination, including discrimination in such areas as the workplace, housing, healthcare, legal documents, marriage, public restrooms, and the military. These forms of discrimination, particularly the fact that transgender people face rates of unemployment at twice the rate of the general population, especially for trans people of color, explain why many of us are drawn to performing sex work as a source of income.

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On Community Spaces and Being a Trans Muslim

On Friday afternoons, we do our best to meet up somewhere in the city. Sometimes it’s my apartment, sometimes his; maybe the park if it’s nice out and we can find a space with some privacy. Privacy is important. We lay out a patchwork of blankets and sit in silence for a while, taking in the day or letting go of the week behind us, depending on what kind of week it’s been. After a while he pulls up a song on his phone, presses play, and sets it between us as we arrange ourselves. Shoulder to shoulder, facing Mecca, we focus quietly and listen to the call to prayer. We are a congregation of two – a tiny fraction of the Muslim Ummah, isolated by a culture of segregation and orthodoxy.

We’re the transgender Muslims of Chicago.

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