(or, Lived Experience Trumps the Harry Benjamin Standards 5-Ever)
I’m a CAFAB bigender (femme/nonbinary) trans person, semi-transmasculine, and I like to wear makeup, jewelry, and nail polish. I feel that at some point in my transition I may even be confident enough to wear the dresses I have bought.
There’s a word for people like me in trans circles on the internet. It’s called “transtrender”. It’s used to describe young trans people, usually CAFAB, who do not align with society’s narratives of trans people.
Breaking gender roles, at least for cis people, is edgy and hip. Cis men wearing dresses? SO BRAVE. (Alternatively: LOLZ MEN IN DRESSES R SO FUNNY.) Trans men wearing dresses? Um, you might as well just stay a girl. Cis women shopping in the men’s section? SUPER COOL, YOU ROCK THAT BLAZER. Trans women shopping in the men’s section? Whoa, whoa, whoa, I guess you’re not actually trans.
Transgender people are held to higher standards of upholding societal gender roles. We are often burdened with the duty of “passing” as cisgender, because cisgender people are held as the norm for gender, and in order to be deemed “normal”, we as trans people have to look like these “normal” cis folks. This burden is often disproportionately balanced on trans women and transfeminine folk, due to the standards of beauty for women outlined by our society.
In “Redefining Realness”, writer Janet Mock says: “This pervasive thinking frames trans people as illegitimate and unnatural. If a trans woman who knows herself and operates in the world as a woman is seen, perceived, treated, and viewed as a woman, isn’t she just being herself? She isn’t passing; she is merely being.”
I started Testosterone in December 2013, in San Francisco. I lucked out with a therapist who was also transmasculine and genderqueer, and who understood that reclaiming my femme had been an important part of owning the trauma I went through in the Mormon Church. He understood that wearing eyeliner to my appointments didn’t mean I didn’t want to be on Testosterone—it meant I wanted to wear eyeliner that day.
The main work that needed to be done was filling out an informed consent form to verify I understood the possible effects of Testosterone on my body and mind, and having bloodwork done to confirm that I didn’t have any problems that might make taking T risky for me. When that was behind me, I was given a prescription for Testosterone Cypionate which I filled at the Walgreens on Cesar Chavez and Mission St, proudly returning to the treatment program I was in with a blue bottle of Testosterone Cypionate carried in a small white bag, presenting it to one of my counselors to store in the refrigerator until my appointment for my first injection.
After my first injection, I came back to the program grinning from ear to ear and walked to the office where my primary counselor was talking to my friend and fellow client in the program, B.
“Did you get it done?” asked B.
I grinned and nodded.
“Good for you,” she said, and lifted a hand for me to hi-five. “I can’t wait to get mine done.”
“How did it go?” asked my counselor.
“It went good. I bled a little, but my nurse said that was normal.”
“That’s great. I’m so excited for you.”
“Me, too,” B chimed in. “I know this is really important to you.”
Later B and I sipped coffee and smoked Marlboros in the smoking area outside the house, both of us chuckling about how neither of us should be lighting up while being on hormones, and her telling me about how her previous hormone regimen had gone for her and how she hoped to get her next Estrogen patch in the next few weeks. We talked about not fitting gender roles—whether by choice, with my femme, or by necessity, with her transitioning in “boy mode” until she reached a level of feminization via estrogen where she felt comfortable going all out with presenting as female.
When I left the program, she had tears in her eyes as she hugged me and handed me her phone number (which I, very regrettably, later lost, and cried about for an hour upon realizing I had forgotten to program her number into my phone in case of this very situation). “You’re going to do great things,” she told me. “You’re going to help people. You sure did help me.”
When I came home to Texas after being unable to secure housing in San Francisco, I assumed I would simply resume Testosterone injections.
However, during a meeting with my endocrinologist, I was proven wrong. He wanted to do bloodwork, first of all, and also wanted me to cease my injections. His reasoning, I later found out, was that he wanted to adhere to the Endocrine Society’s clinical guidelines for treatment of transsexual persons, which he e-mailed to me, and which included being put on hormone suppressants (to effectively “turn off” my ovaries) before resuming hormones.
Living in Texas, I feel insecure about my femme. I feel afraid to be femme because of the risk of being read as female. I feel afraid to be femme because I feel that I will not be taken seriously as a trans person if I am not perfectly masculine in every possible way—I mean, that’s what transmasculine means, right? At least to society, that is?
I especially feel insecure about my femme at the endocrinologist’s office. I butch it up in loose jeans and baggy neutral-colored t-shirts and flannels, a relatively stark contrast to my usual skinny jeans and bright t-shirts. I say I am a boy, and have always identified as a boy, even though I identify as neither a boy or a girl. If I do not fit the narrative of “boy born as girl”, I feel I will not be able to get treatment.
Patrick Califia once said, “None of the gender scientists seem to realize that they, themselves, are responsible for creating a situation where transsexual people must describe a fixed set of symptoms and recite a history that has been edited in clearly prescribed ways to get a doctor’s approval for what should be their inalienable right.”
In order to obtain necessary (I emphasize: necessary) medical transition treatments—blockers, hormones, surgeries—trans people must fit strict narratives of what a trans person looks like. This erases the largely varied experiences of trans people—the trans women like my friend, B, who didn’t know she was a woman until sometime during her first marriage; the trans kids who didn’t know about being transgender until they found forums, blogs, facebook pages on the internet; the genderqueer trans people who want to transition but don’t feel like either a man or a woman; the trans people who want top surgery but not bottom surgery, or bottom surgery but not top surgery, or no surgery at all—and prescribes a “norm” for our identities, a norm that, if we do not fit it, others us, and often places us in the category of “transtrender” as opposed to the category of “true transsexual”.
Laverne Cox stated that transition, particularly surgery, “is not elective, is not cosmetic, it is life-saving.”
In Redefining Realness, Janet Mock writes, “I believe in self-determination, autonomy, in people having the freedom to proclaim who they are and define gender for themselves. Our genders are as unique as we are.”
There are so many different trans identities, so many different lived experiences of trans people, so many different stories. And the most beautiful thing about this is that they are all legitimate—from the “I found out about being transgender on tumblr” transtrenders to the “I knew I was different since I could walk and talk” true transsexuals. No two people’s lived experiences are the same, but they are all important, and that’s what makes us all wonderful.
Lucas Kieran, known to zyr close friends as simply Kieran or Kier, is a nineteen-year-old bigender trans person. Ze enjoys photography, writing, composing music, and Minecraft. Ze plans to move to Orem, Utah, and attend Utah Valley University for a dual degree in Psychology and Social Work, and to attend the University of Utah for master’s degrees in Social Work and Public Administration. Ze wants to help make the Utah Valley, the country, and the world a safer place for trans people, through obtaining zyr LCSW and providing reduced-fee counseling services for young trans people, doing rad activisty stuff, and encouraging trans people to love and support themselves and each other.