In many subreddits dealing with trans and LGBTQ+ issues I come across comments talking about how trans experiences are bad, that they wish there was a brighter future, and how being trans is such a burden. It’s a theme that proliferates across the media, that being trans is such an awful thing that why indeed would anyone wish to be trans or seek to publicly live a trans life. For me this is both deeply upsetting, as I want to reach out and help folk work through their issues, and secondly makes me mad because being trans is not all whips and chains, far from it.
Before I come across as glib and a tad sociopathic, I frankly admit that my personal experiences are based on no small amount of personal privilege. Most of my personal experiences have been overwhelmingly gender affirming and positive, and even after losing my hair people never bat an eyelid with respects to my gender. Yet, I am acutely aware that I can only ever see and experience life through my own lived experiences. For me, living my best life, indeed my best trans life, was about as much self-acceptance as it was interfacing with the world in a way that is easy and hassle free.
The world does not make it easy for trans folk, especially in societies that have wrapped up gender so tightly in a binary exclusive model that to transgress into the hinterland beyond becomes an act of courage. Coming out is almost a voyage into an ocean of unknowable breadth and hostility, with some sailing serenely across glassy seas, while others drown beneath hurricane winds. Yet, the ferocity of those storms has little to do with the trans person, and the societal pressures brought to bear on them make it all the more treacherous.
Yes, trans folk are not perfect. I have made my fair share of catastrophic blunders over the years, yet the one thing that has got me through is knowing that I can carve my own path through life. No-one has to actively tell me what to wear, how to speak, how to present, what being a woman actually is, for only I can make any conscious choices in those matters. How I externalise my gender has as much to do with what I am comfortable in as it is to do with fashion and media pressure. Perfection is illusive, even illusionary, and both trans folk and society at large fall into the trap of chasing perfection.
To live our best trans lives does indeed take courage and conviction, if only in realising that to be comfortable in our own skins takes fortitude and deep self-awareness. Being reflexive is not easy, especially if you are anything like me and often your own worst enemy. Ill behaviour from without often can lead to destructive behaviour within, creating a dysphoric dystopia that can be hard to break away from. I struggle periodically with depression and low self-esteem, feeling I am never good enough, and one of my take aways from those episodes it to put those feelings into perspective. My best trans life is very much one I have carved out for myself, and only I can truly do anything about changing what does not bring joy into my life.
To answer the initial observation raised, life does very much get better, but it does take a lot of time, energy, and effort to get there. Hard work, even if it is self-reflection and being the change you want to see, can be impossible if mental and physical health prevent it. Easy wins, small steps, can make all the difference, as lots of small steps can lead to huge gains. 1% forward is still an achievement, getting you close to where you want to be. Mistakes will always happen, and treating them as learning experiences will make it a lot easier to deal with.
Yes, you say, but am I not just placing the onus on the trans folk, rather than advocating for better rights within society? Yes, in some ways I am, but social change can be glacial, while self-care and self-acknowledgement enable people to take care of their own needs while the larger battles rage around them. Things get better through a combination of self-actualisation and the help of people around us. There is no one way to life a trans life, indeed each and every trans person is their own unique self, as are all folk, and to pigeonhole anyone into a set template is a recipe for distress. No-one is an island, as each of us do need connections for self-validation, and left isolate we can slide into mental and physical spaces that can quickly turn dark.
Lighthouses are there both to guide and prevent disaster. There are plenty of positive trans experience writ large in the world, with many of my trans friends and acquaintances living fulfilled lives. The media usually highlights the slings and arrows because it pays to do so, good news rarely sells, and as such depending on where you consume your media from can often reflect your personal approach to being trans. However, that often combines will all the personal experiences of friends and family to form a bundle of stresses beyond the direct control of any one person. To avoid crashing onto the reefs of despair and crushing social expectations takes a lot of navigation and effort, but it can be done.
There are no straight answers in how to live your best trans life. I could easily write a book on this, and it would still lack the perspectives of trans women of colour, working class trans kids, older age transitioners, indeed anyone who started their transition in recent times. For all the advice I can give, the one clear thing is that the route any trans person takes is as much a series of personal decisions and self-reflection as it is how society treats them. For me, I truly am living my best trans life, doing a PhD and fellowship, playing hockey, in a strong loving relationship, with friends and family who appreciate and validate me. For me, being trans is easy and stress free, and I just want the same for all other trans folk out there. That is a big part of why I fight for trans rights, as every trans person deserves to live their best trans life.