In many of my more than 400 public presentations about being transgender, I have borrowed an old, but relevant, statement - If you ask 100 transgender people what it means to be transgender, you will get 103 different answers. This is because by the time you get 100 transgender people to answer the question, three of us have changed our minds.
Not to say transgender people are any more unable to make up our minds than anyone else. It speaks to the elusive nature of the question. What does it mean to be TGNC (Transgender/Gender Non-Conforming)?
Well, the short answer to the question has two parts. The first part is that it means something different to every TGNC human being. The second part is pretty simple. That's okay.
I'm gonna venture to say, if you use the word snow, it will mean something different to someone who lives in Denver, than it does to someone who lives in upstate New York, and yet something different to someone who lives in Houston.
It means something different to different people because they have different lived-experiences. It is beyond important to recognize that different TGNC people have different lived-experiences, as well. This does not make them less transgender or gender non-conforming. This does not remove anyone's right to identify as TGNC - or not.
Lived experiences. Different if you were allowed to thrive or if you spent years dying silently. Different if you live in a city or if you live in a rural area. Different if you have supportive family or if you lose everyone you have ever believed loved you. Different if you are Caucasian or if you are a person of color.
Being TGNC also means something different to someone who lives in Denver, than it does to someone who lives in upstate New York, and yet something different to someone who lives in Houston. Not to mention North Carolina.
All these different lived experiences come together to make up what we know as a unique, individual human being. This concept is really key to learning to live together in harmony.
I will share a few of the things it means to me. It means I have become constantly vigilant. I am intentionally and exceedingly aware of my surroundings at all times. It means I have endured, and will continue to endure, being referred to by more pejoratives than I can keep track of.
It means I have had to make decisions about maintaining relationships with family members versus living my life authentically.
Being TGNC also means to me that I have been on an amazing journey of self-discovery. I have had no choice but to look deep within and learn about the person who is me. I have learned to love my TGNC-ness. This makes me one of the lucky ones.
One of the ways I like to explore what somethings means is to also explore what it doesn't mean. Being transgender does not mean I am bad, sick, sinful, confused, or disordered. Being transgender does not mean I am a lesser human being.
Being transgender does not mean I should have to deny my truth, in order to make someone else feel comfortable. Being TGNC does not mean I should have to choose between Box F and Box M. If you get rid of the boxes, the whole wide sky opens up. Who you are does not have to conform to anyone's idea of who you should be.
That, my friend, is freedom. That is authenticity. That is the most powerful act of self-love any human being can own. Be yourself.
If you are TGNC, or love someone who is TGNC, or just care about human dignity and justice; it means we fight for the day when everyone can experience the unrestricted freedom to live their gender authentically.
What does it mean to be TGNC? Whatever we say it means.