YMF is dedicating the month of January to the experiences of trans people. This is a guest post by River Simon.
[I was invited to contribute to this blog through a Facebook support group I am a member of. I understand that my writing being presented in your forum might make some people uncomfortable, and that isn’t my intent. I was asked to contribute a little bit about what I think is important from my experience as a Trans person, so I’ll give it a shot.]
My name is River. When people ask about what it was like to grow up with that name, or comment about it, or ask about my parents’ decision to name me River, or anything else about my name, I get to have a little discussion with myself about how I want to relate to that person for the rest of forever. Responses range from little white lies that avoid difficult conversations and provide the questioner with enough information to move on, to half-truths about when I finished Grad school at age 33 and I felt I had the right to choose my name, and that’s what I chose. With very few select people, I risk everything and tell them the truth.
As my life is largely outside of my control anyway, and it might make a difference for someone, here’s why I chose River. When I first put a name to my gender not matching my body, realized that’s really what was going on, and chose to transition to live rather than keep pretending and die, I knew there would come a time when my given name would not match what I looked and presented like. For about 6 years as I slowly transitioned from male to bigender (in between, or an androgynous blend), I tried to figure out which name would fit me.
After considering and discarding a few, I fell into the Sci-Fi cult series “Firefly.” Instantly, I identified with the character River Tam. She has mental problems due to trauma, but is incredibly gifted. Misunderstood, but loving and lovable. The added bonus was that River can be a boy or girl name. Rivers always change. Rivers bring water, life, hope. Rivers cut canyons through solid stone through gentle consistent motion. So I chose River. I kept my last name and created a first name out of the initials my parents gave me out of respect and memory of the life I had lived.
Later, a couple years after I changed my name, I got into Dr. Who and discovered the character of River Song. As the character played out in the series, I felt a deep connection with the universe, like I was personally known. Like that was put there just for me. Several other profoundly meaningful experiences because of my name have confirmed to me that it is who I am.
I’m still married! 12 years and 5 little boys with a little girl due to arrive any minute. My wife and I have been though a lot. We married in the Salt Lake City, Utah temple, and started off like most everyone in that situation does, I imagine. I hid my gender identity issues during our courtship, though we talked about everything else imaginable. My priesthood leaders assured me that sexual relations within the bonds of a temple marriage would fix my gender confusion, and for a couple months it did seem to help. Eventually, I got caught wearing gender atypical clothing, and my wife freaked out. I apologized, threw away my clothes and promised never to do it again. That lasted a couple of months. And so the cycle repeated for years. Eventually, after about a year and a half, expecting our second little boy, I told her I was Transgender and always have been.
Over the next 8 years, we slowly moved forward together dealing with my “issue.” My family knew from the beginning, hers still does not. We moved through clothing choices, what was okay to wear in which settings, underclothes (a HUGE issue for endowed Latter-day Saints), permanent facial hair removal to growing my hair long, changing my name, using cross-gender hormones and eventually surgical intervention (to reduce testosterone.) Now we stand closer together than ever, but facing the biggest challenge of our lives. The next step is “the SURGERY,” and that might break our family. So we’re in a holding pattern about that for now. I could legally change gender on my ID, but I fear it would do more harm to my family than it would do good for me.
Oh, yes. The concept of fear has been a constant with being transgender. From Scouts to Priesthood, the JROTC, military, law enforcement, in personal life and at school I have been in constant fear that people would find out about me and bad things would happen. And bad things have happened as people have found out. More good, more acceptance than rejection, but bad things have happened. My career could be ended by contributing to this blog. Or if I use the wrong pronoun, or do my hair wrong, or wear the wrong clothes in the wrong setting, or ask for my insurance to help with my transition care. So, yes fear is with me always.
But peace also.
I am aware of male privilege. I hate it, but it follows me everywhere I go. It hurts me to see my sisters throughout the world treated wrongly because they are women. So am I just hiding in the perfect disguise? I hate how often and effectively I have used that privilege to move through my transition so far. I am paid more, given more rights. My opinion is valued without question. My work is seen as better, even when it is not. I am spoken to differently and treated differently in the Church. I hate it, but it keeps my family safe.
It is difficult to feel like a stranger in all spaces. I feel I don’t belong in male spaces, female spaces and even transgender specific spaces. I feel like I am always lying. I wish I could belong. I have been kicked out of Lesbian support groups when it was discovered I was born male. I never know which bathroom is safe for me to use in public. I used to work in an all-male industry, and I always felt unsafe. Now I work in an almost exclusively female field, and I fear I’ll slip up and act too female and be discovered. I can’t relate to people who I would like to because I might be found out. I am a feminist, but rejected as such because of my gender identity and the body I was born into. I am rejected from Lesbian circles for the same reason.
I attend the Unitarian Universalist church where I live so I have the strength to support my wife and the kids as they continue with the LDS Church. I imagine many others in my situation feel the same way.
My final words are these: I just want to be valued.