I am not a martyr to my trans identity — Why I chose my hill
Sometimes it can feel like being trans is a cross to bear, a burden which to labour through life. Personally, I prefer to flip it around and suggest that it is society’s reaction to trans people that is the burden, not my trans identity. Every trans person’s narrative is different, and many of us do struggle with both personal and societal issues as we progress through our transitions. However, the older I get, the more I believe that alongside the tribulations the joy and contentment with knowing who you are as a person matters as much, if not more, that the slings and arrows thrown at you.
In no way do I seek to diminish the suffering and toil of others, as many trans people are suffering because of their identities. I have experienced firsthand the reactions people have, especially in my first few years as a trans woman, and after my suicide attempt in 2001 I have a deep empathy for the struggles that being trans brings. Yet, I feel that my life has very much been a blessing and not a curse.
There is a standard narrative about gender, that one knows innately, that a boy who plays with girls things or likes dressing up or is feminine gets potentially labelled as trans; there is a whole other book’s worth of unpacking to do on that, yet for me I never really fit into such a neat conception of gender identity. Prior to about eight I never really appreciated gender, didn’t perceive myself as boy or girl. I dressed in my sisters clothing from time to time and was generally a ‘weird’ kid who played with cars, read avidly, and had a very overactive imagination. My moment of reckoning came when I read about trans women in a magazine, and it suddenly clicked, this was who I was. No anxiety, no stress, just the knowledge that this is who I was and would become.
Society is conditioned to expect trans narratives to be tortuous and agony, that trans women and men and non-binary people must struggle and battle with their identities. For me, and I am confident many others, it was very much a done deal before I hit puberty. Indeed, I had the privilege of attending a selective grammar school from 11 to 16, which while I never really fitted in and was very much a weird teenager, it did not impact my internal view of myself. I was certain and confident that my gender was female, and that come the right moment the external expression would mould and morph to fit the external.
This happened in March 2000 when I fully came out to the world, and then by the time I hit university in 2000 I was myself. Due to various mental health reasons I never fitted in, searching for ways to escape a version of myself that took until my late 20s to fully reconcile with. Being trans, for me, was never the issue, it was my personality and how I related to the world that impacted me far more. By the time I had my gender confirmation surgery in 2008 I was in a far better place and waking up from the anaesthetic was probably the most serene experience I have ever felt.
I have been barred from female spaces due to my gender, been told never to mention being trans during job interviews, had comments in the street, and had prospective relationships fall apart due to my gender identity. Yes, society can be cruel and awkward and messy. Yes, I have had to educate people and they have educated me. It I complicated. Yet, I am certain in myself that being trans is not the root cause of any personal oppression I may experience.
2020 has forced me to confront numerous personal gender issues, the visible being the loss of all my hair — eyebrows, eyelashes, and my crown have all gone. This raised numerous existential gender questions for me, namely, how do I conceive my womanhood. There a plenty of women, including a friend of mine, who suffer from alopecia to some degree, and each deals with it in their own way. Many trans women suffer from baldness prior to transition, so it is a subject that the wider trans community deals with regularly. Yet, there is little synthesis between the female and trans female experiences of going bald. I adored my hair, it was always something I was proud of, and loosing it was a body blow. People’s reaction has been completely empathetic, and not a single negative comment has come my way. In some respects, this could be a sign that my womanhood is being validated in a whole new way, that my trans identity is sunk far below the surface. I would like to believe that is the case, as the flipside of that is my gender is back squarely to the fore.
I like to believe that life has got better for me, that I am utterly comfortable with my identity. My gender is a settled matter, and I have peace in my core. Being trans, for me, is a part of my totality, one of a multitude of pieces that make up my intersectional identity. I am proud to be me, and I am very blessed that the cross society foists onto my back is a small one indeed. Others are not so fortunate.
It is easy to be glib about issues when you are in the heart of them, to see them as nothing more than personal experience, which in turn makes it hard to empathise for other people. As I came to the end of my second undergraduate degree in 2019, I had to ask myself what I want from my career, and the only thing I am certain of is I want to champion rights. I want to build up from the personal, understand others maps of the world, and champion their right to exist in ease and comfort of existence free from slings and arrows. That is why I perceive identity issues not as personal crosses, for why should your identity ever be a burden. Trans women and men and non-binary identities have always existed, and the burdens placed upon them have been societal. Oppression comes from without, and then gets branded within.
July’s protests sparked something in me, an understanding that I need to choose a hill to plant my flag on. On the one hand I have always shied away from picking battles that pragmatically I knew I was unable to fight adequately in; on the other, if not now, when. So, here is my flag, and this is the hill I choose to fight on. I choose to champion rights not because I am a trans woman, but because society places iniquity on those outside what it deems ‘normal’. I stand braced ready to fight shoulder to shoulder with those who need an ally, a friend, a buttress when the going gets heavy. I have privilege I can leverage, education and contacts that I can utilise, and empathy to understand that your battles are our battles.
My pride in my identity is not fixed or rooted in any one element; I am an intersectional person who transcends labels. I am a trans elder, queer woman, university educated, suicide survivor who can only offer my hand and attempt to lift up the weak. If I am a martyr let it be in the name of rights, not for one aspect of my identity. If people hurl slings and arrows, let that be because I stand next to you in the fight. It is my duty to do all I can to support those whose rights have been debased and trampled on, for while my own may be in peril, there are others who face glaring injustices. Here is my challenge, one that I must rise to, and I urge other to join me.
So, I reiterate, I am not a martyr to my trans identity, yet in the battle for rights and equity I am willing to sacrifice myself on this hill. Rights matter more than we realise, and as more are eroded and abrogated those who are considered ‘normal’ are whittled down until only a small percentage are left with privilege and power. Together we are far stronger, each voice amplified by every other, and on this hill called rights we must take a stand. Equity for all is the burden we must accept, because until then every one of us wears a cross.