These Transgender Lips of Mine

Let's be honest: The New York Times included me in a feature about lawyers who handle terrorism cases back in 2012 - but, if I were not transgender, would the paper still have found occasion to publish a profile of me in advance of a terrorism trial two years later?

When I transitioned 13 years ago, being transgender felt like pariah status. Now the world has changed, and there is a din of transgender interest stories in the media.

To what extent does self-interest feed this phenomenon? Is acceptance the by-product of a shift in values that The Economist measures thusly: "93% of young Americans [today] emerge as being more narcissistic than the average of 20 years ago"?

With so much clamor out there already, why put forth the effort to share more stories?

For me, the answer lies in responses like this reader comment to one of my blog posts: "More than 30 years ago as a young gay cisgender man I longed for the day when people would learn from personal stories told in the public domain so that they might better understand mine. I always felt that it would shift public opinion, and it has. So too will stories like yours."

My own longings have always depended upon the kindness of literature.

In the beginning of my gender transition, Jennifer Finney Boylan's book She's Not There comforted me with the hug of words. Her story fortified me to live as I am.

I found out that I had gotten to pass Jenny's torch of hope upon receiving this email from a woman who, with her young daughter, had watched the video I did for Style Like U and Upworthy: "Around her third birthday, [my daughter] started asking me questions like 'Mom can you please turn me into a girl?' . . . We celebrate her 5th birthday later this month, and we are still going strong. . . . [She] watched the video about you with me, and she cried and said 'Mom she's just like me! And look at how beautiful she is! You can't tell she has the wrong body because she looks just like a girl!'"

What I learn from sharing about my differences is how much the same others feel - even non-transgender women.

A 24-year old female from Europe wrote to me: "Although I am cisgender myself, as a disabled woman with a visible physical impairment, I could certainly identify with parts of your story, since my body violates societal normative expectations of beauty and womanhood in other ways..."

Another woman wrote: "I can't even pretend to understand what it was like for you growing up, or understand the grief of not knowing what it is like to grow up with the chance of an ideal girl-hood. If it's any comfort at all, it isn't always that great...being a little girl, an adolescent girl and even a young woman also often comes with trauma, rejection, shaming, assault, dis-empowerment, fear, rape, disgust and other not so pleasant experiences." She then quoted Dean Koontz: "Because God is never cruel, there is a reason for all things. We must know the pain of loss; because if we never knew it, we would have no compassion for others, and we would become monsters of self-regard, creatures of unalloyed self-interest. The terrible pain of loss teaches humility to our prideful kind, has the power to soften uncaring hearts, to make a better person of a good one."

Still, sometimes I lose sight of the point and want to give up. But then I read messages such as an e-mail from a 74-year old living in the southwest, who told me about the self that she had bottled up for decades of her life. "Stay well and always be true to yourself," she wrote to me. "I wish I had."

In the din all around us, these transgender lips of mine speak toward that end: a crescendo of solo voices in harmony with others.

This blog post is adapted from the e-book Am I Transgender Anymore? Story-Essays of Life, Love and Law.