Transgender (Mis)Education

I was 19 and hiding in the room I was renting out of someone's apartment. My laptop was constantly open, YouTube recommending me one FTM (female-to-male) transition video after another. The other tabs on my browser pointed to transgender documentaries and articles about trans* folks in the news. I was looking for guidance, which is rare for someone as stubborn and strong-willed as me. I was confused and tormented by my confusion.

Something didn't feel right for me anymore, and I couldn't put my finger on it. According to every resource I turned to -- whether it be Tyra Banks' interviews with trans* people, or reading resources by and for transgender individuals -- I was not binary enough in my gender to be transgender. I didn't know from the time I was born, never felt trapped in my body, and would never describe my identity as a trans* person as a "birth defect" like Chaz Bono describes his.

As I was coming out as trans*, every corner of cyberspace I turned to said I had to feel like a "boy stuck in a girl's body." Every documentary and TV show featuring trans* people taught me that in order to be trans* enough, I had to harbor an intense hatred for my body being wrong. This is the normative transgender narrative, and I don't fit it. Because of this, I have to reteach well-intentioned but miseducated cisgender folks that this narrative does not apply to me. I don't hate my body. When puberty hit me, I was about 8 years old. Most of my friends were cisgender boys who never had to deal with breast buds. I was jealous and hoped to skip that part of the maturation process. Some parts that developed during puberty don't feel as right as others. While I love them, I still don't want them stuck to me forever.

Fast forward two years, and you'll find me typing this out on a plane to Florida. I just had my chest reconstructed after having been on testosterone for 20 months. Despite taking these medical steps, I would not describe myself as masculine, and my gender goes way beyond the bounds of "man" and reaches genderqueer, femme, and trans* guy.

Chaz's experience with his body is not inherently wrong for not being the same as my experience. When advocates of our community teach about trans* folks as if we all take part in this singular narrative, however, we set up a dichotomy within our own community: those who are trans* enough for following this narrative and those who are not for being different.

The normative transgender narrative tells us that all trans* people fit into these neat boxes of "masculine" and "feminine." We not only fit into these categories, but we do so eagerly. When I was younger, my mother bought my clothes, taught me how to behave, and made sure I would stay in check by reminding me to walk like a girl and to not hunch my shoulders while eating. Realizing my identity as a trans* person was liberating and simultaneously easily influenced. I never had a desire to subscribe to hypermasculinity, and I've always enjoyed being feminine. My parents forced femininity onto me. I never knew if I disliked femininity or the incessant acts of coercion. Transitioning medically has allowed me to express femininity in a way that suits me as opposed to rejecting all things feminine in order to pass as male.

Trans* folks have nothing to lose and everything to gain by educating the public about our existence and about the true diversity of our narratives. Within the GSM (gender and/or sexuality minority) community, trans* people are the most likely targets for assault. We have the highest unemployment rate, suicide rate, and homelessness rate. What do we have to lose?

As a child, I was often ostracized by other kids for having curly hair or for being Jewish, and my parents would tell me that they were never really my friends if they couldn't accept who I am. As is the case with many trans* people, I was later disowned by my parents, but I took that one thing my parents told me to heart. That's what we have to gain: true friends.

If the people who claim to accept and affirm us are also unwilling to listen to our experiences and recognize that the world is full of people who have feelings and lives that they will never know, they were never truly our allies in the first place. If we look at the education of cisgender folks through this lens instead of with the fear of rejection, then we need not teach transgender 101 with exclusivity. Trans* people don't want anything different than anyone else; we just want people to accept us for who we are. We can teach people how to be amazing allies and not just how to cover up deeply ingrained cissexist ideas by recognizing that our experience is not representative of all trans* experiences and by trading simplicity for accuracy and inclusivity. Personally, I think it's worth the extra effort and strife.