In honor of Transgender Awareness week (November 13-20), I wanted to share a little visibility. Know that my story isn’t every trans woman’s or gender queer person’s, but it’s mine.
In kindergarten and first grade, I was dungeon master-ing a circle of friends through untold recess adventures. I’d help other children discover their race and class and lead the group through episodic adventures I largely adlibbed on the spot.
“You’re fighting through the thick swamp and you come to a river of lava. You will need to cross it and the dark forest to climb the tower to rescue Princess Jenny,” I’d inform them.
“Thanks, Emeri,” would reply Jenny, who had won the privilege of being rescued that day.
We had an Elven Barbarian, a wizard, cat monsters, a dilophosaurus, and I – ladies and gentlemen – was always a fairy princess.
I was freely expressed and happy for two years in primary school, but in second grade gender started to matter a lot. A friend of mine who had had the best fairy picture books became an unacceptable friend because… cooties? Friends who had penes (you’ve always wondered what the word was pluralized, haven’t you?) informed me that now I had to play football, choose a favorite team, and buy a jacket of said team. Now I had to have big muscles, fight, and kill off all emotion.
My friend group, mandated as it was, began to look strange and alien to me. I’d sneak into conversations with the girls, but eventually get shooed or laughed out. I was accused of K-I-S-S-I-N-G any girl I’d befriend. Over three years I struggled through boy scouts, locker room measuring contests, and so many fights. I had relatively better and worse periods during this time, but I made a number of suicide attempts during this time trying in vain to imitate Wiley Coyote and the Road Runner simultaneously. Thankfully their lessons on mortality weren’t altogether very practical, and I was lacking on follow through.
I couldn’t see how the life I lived would ever “unfuck” itself, but I lived in a pleasant fantasy world too. I was still a fairy princess in spirit, but fairies became “unrealistic” once I started growing genital hair. At that point, I’d settle for not a boy. I’d be fine using up a shooting star’s wish for my penis to suck up in side of me, my body hair to fall out, and for me to begin developing the way all the girls were developing. During held breath through tunnels I still saw myself as a voluptuous gypsy goddess with long flowing dark hair. With time and privacy, I'd indulge myself in fantasies markedly more elaborate. In one, during an Ice Skating performance a blinding light would crash through the local ice rink (I skated back then) and lift me up in front of the crowd, and when it set me down my shell would have been melted away to reveal the stunning beauty beneath. In shock and awe, even the most reticent would swell with love and acceptance for who I had been all along. No one would blame me. They'd just have to get over it.
But eventually I agreed with whatever higher power existed that even an ugly-ass girl was fine as long as I was that girl. Inevitably, I gave up wishing and praying altogether, and began in earnest to start learning how to pretend to be a boy.
In 5th grade I got good at emulating the way the boys slouched, crossed arms, spoke, ate, joked, peed, and emoted. It felt hollow somehow, but it seemed to make the other boys and girls feel more comfortable around me. In middle school I started to find friends more easily, yet I still felt the need to hide much of who I was. I opened up a lot though and even dated my first girlfriend (or boyfriend if you consider his pronouns today – it would turn out we had a few things in common).
By 8th grade I was feeling even a little self-confident again - up until we moved again that is. My new middle school fixed that right quick. Nevertheless, 6 months later I was in high school lovingly known to many as “the gay school.” I found friends of many colors, backgrounds, orientations, vocations, and diagnoses within the DSM. When I started theater, I found that an easy majority of those around me identified as bi or gay. It became natural to try it on – “Bi. Yes, that fit.” I learned many words during those years. In sophomore year I learned "trans." I thought for much longer on that one, but eventually settled on, “Yes, that fit too.”
I immediately started a massive research escapade flipping many pages deep into the Google results for “trans.” I read blogs, medical papers, and academic studies. Though I found a thousand different definitions of “trans,” I found a common thread I shared with them. We all found the social definitions of our gender somehow unfitting. We fantasized, we wished, we prayed, we cried, and in shocking numbers died. We were trans people who “always knew,” or “discovered one day.” We transitioned or didn’t. We took pills or didn’t. Some even found the resources to find a surgeon one day.
I went from not having the words to describe my condition to having a path to deal with it.
I started coming out to friends, counselors, family, parents, and then extended family. I went to years of therapy discussing my feelings. I pursued letters of recommendation for hormone replacement therapy and sexual reassignment surgery. Along the way I addressed an underlying depression I’d carried with me for years and began to replace it with something akin to hope. After a time, I knew which direction I was going, I just didn’t know when I’d get there.
I started hormones halfway through my senior year in high school, then socially transitioned that summer thanks to an employee discount at Savers. Freshman year of college I was fully (though awkwardly) transitioned and out as female.
For a time, I struggled with re-learning the way I should be. I failed hard at makeup. I failed at wardrobe coordination. I was an awkward, non-passing mess. But near the end of my first year, I got tired of it all and stopped giving a fuck what other people thought.
You cannot know the relief.
All at once I realized that the world was relating to me as I was and in the shockwave, I found life magically, bright, and full of marvelous things. Completely unreserved for the first time in a long, long time, I found wide friend circles, clubs, scenes, and communities. I started dating a lot. I lost my virginity and found intimacy infinitely more meaningful when honest. I went through a second puberty and developed breasts, soft skin, finer hair, and a surging emotionality.
In 2007, after six years of therapy, 5 therapists, three years of “Real Life Experience,” countless hospital consults, untold coming outs, oceans of tears, and a lifetime of confusion, I successfully obtained my sexual reassignment surgery. Looking in the mirror the morning after I had a sudden realization that the woman I had wished, prayed, and begged the powers that be to become was standing in front of me. I felt a connection to the divine and realized that in a way, my prayers had been answered, though by the divine in me. I felt tremendously humbled and immeasurably grateful.
By graduation I’d already conquered the world, so I moved off to China to do it again. Today, being trans has almost nothing to do with my experience or my identity. I’m on to bigger and better things.
I want to make it clear that my story is highly unusual for many reasons. I had a family that accepted me, housed me, paid for therapy co-pays, supported, defended, and unconditionally loved me. I am not typical in that. I lived down the street from a nationally renown psychiatric center for the study of sexual health where I received insurance covered therapy for Gender Identity Dysphoria. I am not typical in that. I found the resources to go to school, finance hormones and surgery, and achieve all of my goals for transitioning before the age of 21. I am not typical in that. I got my birth certificate amended, and got an “F” on all my documents because I had certification of completion of SRS. I am not typical in that. I generally "pass" and have managed to build some belief in myself as an attractive and desirable woman. I'm not typical in that either.
As I traveled, I would further realize the boon I’d carried as a result of my life of privilege. I would visit countries where I might have been imprisoned or executed for being the way I am had I been born there. I would later return home to find people like me struggling to find homes or safety walking home. I would see gender queer people like myself get fired, excommunicated, or killed.
I am not a typical trans person.
I suffered greatly through parts of my life, and struggled fiercely for the right to express myself as I do today. But I am lucky.
As we finish this Week of Transgender Awareness - a time for trans people to share stories and perspectives - it's important to know trans people as they want to be known. Towards this end, check out these charming vids made just for this week.
As for me - I hope we remember that being yourself is a lethal sport in this country and in others. We have gender queer people on the covers of magazines, on TV, and holding official titles. But while we fumble and joke about how difficult it is to remember someone’s pronouns, trans people are fighting to stay alive.
In 2019, more than half of transgender male teens, 29.9% of trans female teens, and 41.8% of non-binary youth said they’d attempted suicide at some point in their lives (Hassanein, 2018). 10% of trans people say they’ve attempted suicide and 2/3 say they have self-harmed within the last year (Center for Suicide Prevention, 2019). Trans people are also twice as likely to think about and attempt suicide compared with LGB people (Center for Suicide Prevention, 2019). That’s just trans violence against themselves.
In 2017, there were 29 reported murders of trans people. In 2018, there were 26, and so far this year there have been 22 (Human Rights Campaign, 2019). I suppose that’s progress. The majority of these violent deaths are black, trans, women, and they remain disproportionately located in lower income areas (Andone, 2019).
We are people for whom the gender boxes we were assigned have never fit. We have struggled for years in silence and perhaps still do. We are visionaries who are building an intimate understanding of gender in our society from an outsider and insiders' combined perspective. I believe we are collectively building the knowledge of true biodiversity among humans and in time, we may all be able to accept gender as social constructs because of the blood, sweat, and tears of the trans and gender queer community.
We are wealth’s of life experience, knowledge, love, individuality, art, and inspiration – many of whom have made a living of sharing it all with the world. We make life richer and are glad to do it.
Please love us. Please accept us. Please appreciate who we are and what we bring to the table. Our lives matter so please mourn us and remember us after we’re gone. Lastly, please know the love and acceptance you show to your friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors very literally saves lives.
So hug a trans person today if you know one! Hug two, or twelve, or two hundred. Hug none if you’re not one who likes touching, but pass some warmth into the world on our behalf.
We thank you.
Please share your own story below for Transgender Awareness Week!