This post gets pretty personal. A lot of what I present here is a vocalization of something I’ve been pondering for myself. This should not be taken as a how-to guide to living as a transgender person other than to have others consider the same questions for themselves. Also, I talk about the notions of passing and going stealth here, which I know are complex subjects that deserve more consideration than I have time to give them here. While I paint them with pretty borad strokes in this post, I’d like to make it clear that I understand they are not as black-and-white as I might make them sound.
So I have this bracelet…
It’s nothing fancy, just one of those rubbery ones used to show support for a cause like the whole LIVESTRONG thing made popular years ago. It’s white, blue, and pink with TRANS* PRIDE written twice around it in black letters. I got it at a transgender social event many months ago. This story isn’t about the bracelet, but it kind of is. It’s more about what that bracelet means to me in a broader sense beyond the obvious. It’s also about how those feelings have changed and become more complicated over time.
I have to be honest, folks; this is one of those transgender issues where I don’t really have a solution in mind. This is more going to be me tossing my personal feelings on a deeply personal subject into the void of the web and see what happens. A lot of times I come here hoping to share an idea, educate on a not so well known topic, or just have a good old fashioned bitch-fest. This doesn’t fall into any of those categories, but I still want to share it. Maybe you all can help me sort this out.
Anyway, back to the bracelet. When I acquired it I was still quite new to my transition. I wasn’t full time, hadn’t started hormones, and was just all-around trying to learn to walk again (in heels, no less!). Full time came a few weeks later for me. I came out to HR and they supported me in my transition in the workplace. At long last, I was Faith 24/7/365.
Back then I wore my bracelet almost every day. I work with the public and really felt proud to show it off. I know not everyone tends to get as rah-rah activism as I do about stuff, and that’s fine, but strong conviction and trying to change the world have always been part of who I am. I have a passion for standing up for the right thing and educating the public, which is basically why I keep this blog.
I got plenty of stares, plenty of second glances. I heard whispers behind me when I passed people, I was called sir with unnatural emphasis by some as a form of ridicule. This all became part of my normal routine. Back then my bracelet was a silent response to those people. Yes, I’m transgender. We exist. We check out your groceries and handle your bank loans. We clean your bathrooms and cut your hair. We exist and we’re not ashamed. I considered it an honor to show my community (a very rural community in right-leaning North Carolina) that transgender people are just as normal as everyone else they come into contact with. I’m also one of the managers at my job, and it was nice to show them that trans people can even clime the corporate ladder and be the person in charge.
But things started to change.
As the months went by, hormone therapy made my skin softer and my breasts bigger. Laser hair removal made the stubble shadow under my makeup vanish. Practice helped my voice to sound more and more feminine, to the point where I even got called ma’am on the phone. A lot of people don’t like this term and I’m not really comfortable with it either, but after a few months, I realized that I now passed (i.e. people thought I was cisgender female). The awkward stares went away. The whispers went quiet. I no longer felt eyes following me or snap back for a second look. Over time, life became normal for me. And as that happened, I found myself wearing my bracelet less and less.
Was I no longer proud? Did I no longer believe in all those things I was wearing it for? Of course not. But the circumstances had changed. Before, people weren’t learning anything from my bracelet they couldn’t already tell. I looked like a trans woman. You could tell from just about any angle. The bracelet didn’t give it away as much as it said, “yea, I know you can tell and I’m proud of who I am”. When I got to the point of “passing”, it shifted to become the giveaway. I’ve actually had people tell me they had no idea I was trans until they saw my bracelet.
So I put it on less, and even when I did wear it I’d find myself taking it off or turning it over to hide the lettering in certain situations. Sometimes that makes me feel bad, like I’m not standing up for my convictions. But at the same time, it becomes nice to just get to be…well…normal. Being transgender is scary, especially to be a transgender woman and especially to be one in a community like mine (and yes, I fully understand and agree that I’m privileged in the fact that I’m white because trans women of color have it infinitely worse than I do/did).
Trans women have one of the highest murder rates in the country. My life has been threatened on more than one occasion just for needing to go pee. Bullying/harassment against trans people is on another level from most other forms. We’re not just hated because we’re different, we have pastors and lawmakers out there publicly justifying that hatred. I’ve said before that I don’t fear anti-trans laws as much as I fear what they make bigoted people empowered to do. To hate is one thing, but to think you have a pass from authority figures to act on that hatred because the law backs it up is the truly frightening piece of it all.
When I went full-time I lived with that fear constantly. My bracelet was a reaction to it, a shield against what was already being volleyed at me. Now it has become my vulnerability, and that makes it harder and harder to keep wearing it.
And this brings me to the question I can’t answer: what’s the right way to move forward? Now, I’m certainly not saying that all transgender people need to be as activist minded as I am. I know plenty of trans people who prefer to just go “stealth” (just pass for cis if possible and blend into the normal framework of everyday life) and there’s nothing wrong with that. It should be obvious from what I’ve said so far that I’m tempted to go that way myself. But again, I’m little miss got to change the world, and I feel compelled to do more.
There’s a very somber day coming up. November 20th is Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s a day to honor all of the transgender people who have been slain just for daring to be true to themselves. Transgender women, especially women of color, are murdered at alarming rates. We must and do honor their memory. They are the martyrs in our crusade for acceptance. When I take off my bracelet because I’m scared, I often think about what they suffered and how I could be next.
But there’s another important day on the calendar to the transgender community. March 31st marks Transgender Day of Visibility. This one switches from somber to celebration as we highlight what we as a community have accomplished. But the key word there is visibility. Visibility is what we need more than anything. I don’t know how many times I’ve been told that I’m the only transgender person someone’s ever met, and that’s a problem. With how much attention hateful lawmakers and spiritual leaders get when they spew lies about us, we desperately need to tell our own stories.
As a community we need to be visible. We need to show the world that we’re not scary or dangerous. Trans people are people; not freaks or monsters. We’re certainly not a danger to anyone in bathrooms or changing rooms. But people aren’t going to know that unless we offer that alternative message, and it needs to be done with actions rather than words. People have to see us in their everyday lives; at the grocery store, at the bank, in the crowd at the football came, at the PTA meeting, in the board room, in the pew, and in their neighborhood.
When you can’t help but be visible, you don’t get a choice. Full time is a scary step to take in transition. It means not just being authentic when/where it’s safe to do so. I combated those fears by focusing on the good it was doing, on the lives I was touching and the new impression of transgender people I was giving the community. “Passing” became an oasis in the desert, and like any comfort zone it can be very scary to step out of it. Putting on my bracelet, outing myself to the public, is scary. And I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always have the strength to do it.
But I still try to do it, at least some of the time. I do it because that visibility is important, because it’s the only thing that’s actually going to bring about any change. It’s that example I set that combats the hateful lies told about me. I must stress again that I’m not saying all transgender people should feel obligated to do the same. Not everyone has to be an activist. But it’s important to remember that, while being invisible feels a whole lot safer, it’s not making anything any better.
So does this mean I’m going to go back to wearing my bracelet every day? Probably not. Like I said, this is one of those topics where I don’t have the answer. And even if I did, it would only be an answer for me. I’m offering more of a question to ponder than a solution to present. As members of the transgender community, this is something we really all need to weigh for ourselves. We are targets of so much negativity and it’s largely up to us to combat it, but we must always weigh such things against our own safety. So all I’ll leave you with is this: ponder this in your own lives. Keep yourselves safe, absolutely, but remember the power you do have to help the cause.
Nothing is ever accomplished in a comfort zone.