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The Transgender Community™

November 17, 2013

I never quite know how to answer questions about “the transgender community.” To me, the Transgender Community™ is a product of the greater LGBT-industrial complex, just s neat way to classify those of us on the island of misfit toys. Trans individuals are just as diverse and complex as any other grouping of people.

Liberal, conservative; affluent, poor; we’re all individuals. While we may have a common interest, a common goal policy-wise… Actually, that’s not even true. I recently wrote a post about the need for public accommodation protections for trans individuals. To my surprise, a trans person used the comments section of my piece to advocate against these types of protections. Even common threads, similarities — these in themselves do not a community make.

I don’t feel a part of any sort of community. I don’t feel as though I belong to anything. I feel just as lost as anyone else, and I don’t know that it’s fair to pretend there’s this “community,” this bond that connects us. I don’t feel this bond. I wish I did. I wish I did feel the existence of a true community, but I don’t. Or, at very least, I don’t feel one that I’m a part of or welcome in.

I’m Lost

November 15, 2013

There’s a scene in Lilo & Stitch (the saddest Disney movie ever made, by the way) where Lilo (a girl living with her older sister) is reading Stitch (an alien who crash landed on Earth) The Ugly Duckling. There’s a page in the book that shows the duckling, all alone, away from his family. “I’m lost!” he cries out. The next page shows him surrounded by his family after they found him.

In the movie, Stitch, who was the result of a genetic experiment, and therefore doesn’t have any biological family, takes the book from Lilo’s room, taking it out into the middle of the forest. He cries out, “I’m lost!” He hopes this will lead to him finding his family, finding a purpose in life. No one comes. He falls asleep in the forest waiting for them.

When I first saw this scene, I cried. It’s just so sad.

I feel a lot like Stitch lately. I feel lost. I feel as though I don’t really have true purpose in the world.

Yes, I have a mom, dad, siblings, and so on. It’s just that, when it comes to family that’s created by other friends and loved ones, I do feel lost. I feel so lost.

I’ve always dreamed about starting a family, and I’ve always wanted to have kids. I want to be a mother, a parent, a wife, a friend. I worry that these things aren’t in the cards for me.

I look back on my life and notice the pattern: every one of my friendships has dissolved. One would have to be delusional to think that the cause of these strained personal relationships is everyone else. I know that it’s not them, that it’s me. I know that there’s just something about me that drives people away. I know I’m the cause of this, and I know that no matter how much I try to fix things, to be a better person, to be a normal human being, I’ll always drive those closest to me away.

I’m lost.

I often wish that I just never existed. No, I’m not saying that I will hurt myself. I’m just saying that I wish that I wasn’t ever here in the first place. I feel as though my net impact on the world has been negative. I feel as though no matter how much I try to turn that around, I’m unable. Some might say that my writing has been helpful, but in terms of personal relationships, my life is broken because my personality is broken.

Like Stitch, here I am, sitting here yelling “I’m lost” into the empty forest.

I recently read about Alissah Brooks, a transgender woman from Atlanta, Georgia, and her recent run-in with a bouncer who denied her entry to a club on the basis of her gender identity. For those who haven’t yet read this story, after attending a GLAAD event in Atlanta, Brooks and a few friends stopped at Don Pollo Bar & Grill. Brooks was denied entry to the bar after a bouncer asked to see her ID. Her friends then explained Brooks’ transgender status to an employee of the club, saying they believed Brooks was denied entry on account of her status as a trans woman. The employee’s response?  “What’s wrong with that? We can do that — we have the right to be selective. We can do that. We’re a private property.”

Actually, they can’t. This would appear to violate a city ordinance put in place to protect LGBT individuals.

I wish I could say this was the first time something like this has happened to a transgender woman, but that would be a lie. In fact, it was only a few months ago that one of my friends and I were denied entry to a bar in Chicago. On July 19th, after going to a concert on Chicago’s north side, my friend and I decided to end the night by stopping at a bar for a drink. As most bars were jam-packed, we kept walking until we found one with a little more breathing room. That’s when we stumbled upon Big City Tap, a bar that lives up to its nickname of “Big Shitty Tap.”

We approached the door. The bouncer eyed us suspiciously. He held up his hand as if to say, “IDs, please,” and we went ahead, giving him our drivers licenses. He looks at mine, then up at my face; back down at the card, up at my face. He hands me my license, waving me into the nearly-empty bar. My friend, wearing a cute dress that went down to her knees, covered her shoulders, and showed minimal cleavage, handed her license to the bouncer. Immediately, he calls for me to come back out of the bar. I heard the tail end of the conversation between my friend and the bouncer. “Wait, what?” she asked, confused by the situation. “Dress code. That’s all I’m saying,” he replied, waving us away.

We walked away from the bar, not necessarily in the mood to get into an argument over the right to purchase an overpriced beer and sit in a bar blasting shitty music. Still, though, it stung. I felt like a freak; I felt subhuman. There was no way to interpret “dress code” as anything other than another way of saying, “stay out, tr*nnies.” After all, it wasn’t until the bouncer saw that my friend’s drivers license didn’t match his own initial read of her gender that he shooed us away. Had this legitimately been about some sort of dress code, why did he look at the license in the first place? The people who were in the bar? Girls in low-cut shirts that bared their midriffs, guys in t-shirts and jeans, a man in cargo shorts with flip flops, a girl in a short skirt who wasn’t wearing shoes at this point in the evening. Clearly, there was no dress code in place.

We made our way to a different bar, had a drink, and called it a night. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened at Big City Tap. It seemed as though, from an attire-based point of view, anyone could enter the bar so long as the sex listed on their drivers license matched their outward gender presentation.

In what other circumstance would it be okay to discriminate against someone like this? To deny someone access to public accommodations? “No blacks allowed.” “Men only.” “Must have blue eyes and blond hair to enter.” “Must be taller than 6’ to drink here.” “No disabled welcome.” In each of these situations, there’d be a thunderous outcry against the business. This isn’t to say that there aren’t places that do discriminate against people on the basis of race, sex, appearance, and so on; but rather that it’s seen as less culturally acceptable. For transgender people, this kind of treatment is almost expected.

One of my greatest fears is that I’ll find myself in the hospital for some reason, and just left to die. Or that I’ll be in a car crash and upon realizing I’m transgender, being left on the side of the road by paramedics. You might think I’m being paranoid, but these fears are more rational than one would think.

In 2010, Erin Vaught, a transgender woman, checked into a Muncie, Indiana Emergency Room after she started coughing up blood. In spite of her ID, which listed her as female, she was entered into the hospital system as a male (this part has actually already happened to me). She was then sent to an exam room where she was referred to as a “he-she,” “transvestite,” and an “it” by hospital staff. There she waited for two hours without treatment until a doctor showed up, only to tell her that they would not be treating her on account of her “condition.” She was then sent home.

To be clear, by “condition,” these doctors were not referring to whatever it was that led to her coughing up blood. Rather, they were stating that they would not treat her on account of her transgender status. Even though the two issues were entirely separate, the doctor refused her service on account of her gender identity.

Along with examples of discrimination against transgender people in employment, housing, and public accommodations, it’s become the norm to expect the worst and hope for the best. It’s not right, though. It’s not right at all. We shouldn’t have to.

This is why I cringe anytime I hear someone say that adding legal protections for transgender individuals is giving us a “special right” or a “special treatment.” There’s nothing special about wanting to be treated with dignity and respect, whether it’s stopping at a bar for a drink or seeking medical treatment.

So, before anyone jumps in and says “why don’t you just go to a different bar?” I want to make one thing clear: this isn’t about the bar. This isn’t about a single event. This is about the world piling on us until we can’t take it anymore.

I really don’t know what it is to “be a guy.” Sure, I lived as one for the majority of my life, but when people ask what it’s like to be able to “see both sides,” I don’t really have an answer. I could very easily give you a comparison of what it’s like to feel intense dysphoria with myself versus not feeling dysphoric, but my experience as “a guy” is so epically different from that of your average cisgender man that a true comparison cannot be made. I could give you a breakdown of the difference in how society treats someone they read as a man in comparison to someone they read as a woman, but that’s not the same as being able to verbalize what it’s like to actually be a guy.

beamanOne of my friends tweeted that asking a trans woman what it’s like to be a man is like asking Jane Goodall what it was like being a chimpanzee. That analogy really hit home. My experience as a guy was more one of careful observation, of imitation, not am authentic representation of the actual experience as a man.

Though, thinking about it, I don’t know if any of us could accurately explain what it’s like to be anything. There is no such thing as shared experience when it comes to life, and to argue that there is, as some trans exclusionary radical feminists assert (stating that there is a “shared experience” among women), is to completely ignore the impact class, race, disability, and health has on our everyday lives. They use this reasoning to back up their belief that trans women are really just men. I’ve written about this topic, and I’ve refuted every one of their arguments, but I can tell you one thing for sure: I am not a man, and if there’s supposedly universal experience men have, it remains as much a mystery to me as it does to any other woman.

The question of whether or not I have benefited from “male privilege” is more easily answered: yes, I have benefited from male privilege in my life. For the first 26 years of my life, the world treated me as they would any other male infant, boy, and man. Sadly, in society as it currently exists, this is a distinct advantage in the world. I understand this, as I have realized what it’s like to lose said male privilege.

As I began presenting myself as a woman to the public, I was amazed at how different things can be. Co-workers talked over me, I got skipped over for promotions, strangers felt that they had the right to harass me on the street by commenting on my appearance or telling me to smile. The world’s sexism hit me in such an obvious, intense, disgusting way. If we are to change that, we need to attack the source of the problem: the sexism, itself, rather than lashing out at one another. Male privilege exists because sexism exists. Sexism exists because the world operates by patriarchy. Arguing over “shared experiences” and authenticity is only a distraction from the true problem: the fact that society looks down on feminine behavior, whether from a cisgender or transgender woman. Masculine behaviors are considered superior in almost every way.

What’s it like being a man? Hell if I know. The better question is why men are treated so much better than women (there are historical and sociological answers to this, but the entire concept is bullshit).

Last week, I wrote an article that appeared on the Huffington Post, titled, The Coming Storm: ‘Controversial’ Transgender Stories. The point of the article was to highlight the beginning of what will surely be a long line of stories related to transgender kids in California over the next year, as AB1266 goes into effect.

Students of bigoted or ignorant parents will be pulled from classes, transgender children will become the scapegoat for a slew of nastiness, and most importantly: the media will continue to treat this as a “both sides have a valid point,” type of argument.

I’ve stopped participating in the comments sections of my articles as I’ve learned that most people are inflexible in their views and will only use participation of the author as an excuse to throw more weight behind their already insufferable opinions, however, I do still read the comments.

One common theme in the comments of that article was this: a lot of these so-called “progressive” minds (“Hey! I even voted ‘No’ on Prop 8!” – congrats, here’s a cookie) see no problem with going back to the “separate but equal” culture of Civil Rights era 1960s.

“Wouldn’t it be better if places had a separate transgender-only bathroom? This way, no would would feel uncomfortable.”

Well, sure, in theory, creating separate spaces to shield people from things that make them uncomfortable sounds like a reasonable way to keep the potentially inconvenienced feeling safe. Unfortunately, in practice, this isn’t how it works. See the below examples:

Much like segregation on the basis of race, segregation on the basis of gender identity creates a “separate but (un)equal” situation. I’m sure there were (and still are) white people who feel uncomfortable when in they’re put in a situation that includes people of color. Know what they have to do? They have to deal with it. We don’t have “whites only” water fountains, bathrooms, lunch counters, etc. anymore. We don’t cater to the irrationally afraid.

If someone suggested re-instituting race segregated spaces, it’s a safe bet that the vast majority of the internet would turn against them, condemning their actions as being based in bigotry.

You don’t see large, mainstream groups of people going after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, nor would some of these “I’m all for equality, but…” individuals stand by and watch the country slip back into segregation. Why? Because it’s generally understood that the human rights of one person come before another’s “discomfort.”

If you oppose the right to transgender people to have safe access to restrooms, you cannot, in good faith, call yourself anything but a hypocrite.

(Edit: of course, none of this is meant to imply that racism is a thing of the past. The point being made here was solely in regards to public accommodations regulations)

Another argument that tends to take hold in the comments sections of my articles is a case that children “shouldn’t have to be exposed to a trans person’s genitals.” I’m inclined to agree, but only if we broaden that. Children shouldn’t be exposed to anyone’s genitals.

What kind of locker rooms and bathrooms did you, as a child, find yourself in where it was wall-to-wall genitals? Really, please, tell me. I can’t remember a time where I saw what was in someone’s pants. If, when you use the restroom, you’re seeing a lot of penis or a lot of vagina, I think you’re doing it wrong.

Survivors of the working class

September 20, 2013

Sweaty, shaking, I’m on my back, home from work. It shouldn’t be so emotionally draining to make it through a simple work week, but it is. My mind has endured the mental version of a marathon, doing its best to complete this endurance challenge. More and more, my anxiety gets the best of me, driving me to keep focus on every little task.

Am I breathing to loud? Am I walking okay? How does my voice sound? Do I feel like me?

In silence, in my apartment, alone, the ringing in my right ear from a concert last Saturday night persists. A high pitch with gradual decay, I try to block that noise out, but relent after I conclude that the mental energy required to ignore the ringing is more than I have left in me to spare.

I reach for a few prescription bottles, glancing at the labels. Digging an into the orange container labeled Sertraline, I pull 2 oval pulls from the bottle, snapping one between my index finger and thumb. With a mouthful of Diet Coke, I take the whole pill along with one of the halves and choke them down along with a circular pill from the bottle labeled Spironolactone and another from the bottle of alprazolam.

I rest my head back, allowing the ringing to take my complete attention, and I drift off to sleep with hope of finding the strength to survive another work week.

Time Flies: A Year Ago…

September 6, 2013

Earlier today I realized that it’s been a year since one of the bigger milestones of my early transition. On September 3, 2012, I was at brunch when the server gendered me correctly, calling me “ma’am,” and referring to my partner and I as “ladies.” The feeling of someone looking at me and seeing me for who I really am was just amazing. It was the first time in my life I felt like me in the world.

Here I am a year later, and I almost never get called “sir” anymore. I’ve been in situations where I’ve run into people I used to see on a daily basis pre-transition, and they don’t see me as [birth name], they see me as Parker, as a woman.

I’ve come a long way since that first correct public gendering, but looking back on these little occasions (whether trans or not, just think about a time you felt validated) makes me smile, keeps me moving.

I’m coming up on another big anniversary: the 12 month mark of being on hormone replacement therapy (October 11, 2012). I never thought I’d be where I’m at right now. Life is wonderful.

Why do I bother reading the comments? Seriously. Why? Why can’t I read an article, absorb its contents, and exit the page without seeing what the rest of the world thinks?

This is an addiction I’m struggling to break. I’m not alone, either. A Google search for the phrase “don’t read the comments” brings back more than 1.5 million results, including a July 2013 article in Scientific American about how the desire to read and respond to comments relates to anthropology.

via theoatmeal.com

via theoatmeal.com

There are more than 4 billion internet users, worldwide. No matter the piece of content, you’re bound to bump into a wall of negativity and disagreement.  I’m hard pressed to find anything that everyone can agree on. For instance, 7% of Americans believe the moon landing was a hoax, 14% believe in Bigfoot, 15% believe the government adds mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals, and 4% believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power (source).

Good luck trying to get them to agree with just about anything else.

As an occasional writer, I’m faced with a bit of a double edged sword: the fewer people read my article, the less likely I am to end up the subject of internet vitriol; the more readers, the higher the likelihood of ending up the subject of ad hominem attacks.

In the past week, one of my articles was published on two popular sites, Thought Catalog and xoJane. This was huge for me. Writing a piece about my experience as a transgender woman, and having it read by a mainstream audience was a delight. Eventually, though, as is the case with nearly all pieces of internet writing involving transgender people, the comments sections slowly peppered with accusations of being some sort of freak, not a “real” woman, and so on. None of which really had anything to do with the content within my article.

For instance, here’s a comment a user named “fckoff” left at the bottom of my article on xoJane (TW: transphobia):

One of several negative comments left by this user

One of several negative comments left by this user

On Thought Catalog, hidden in a pile of mostly-positive commentary was this:

tc

The thing is, most of the comments were so positive. Why is it that I can’t just brush off the negative ones? Knowing that some transphobia and gender policing will always find its way into the comments section, why can’t I stop myself before looking at the comments?

Anonymity gives people the courage to say things online that they ordinarily wouldn’t share. Anonymity makes it so easy to forget that comments like the two highlighted above are aimed at individuals of a group with a disproportionately high rate of suicide attempts.

Sometimes its good to stay cloaked in anonymity, but please never forget that when you say hateful things, there are real people on the other end. Step back and breathe.

I get my hormones filled at one pharmacy, my other medications (antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills) filled at another. The pharmacy where I get my anxiety and depression related meds (CVS) is substantially closer to home. The one with the hormones is quite a distance. I’ve kept these split between the two pharmacies for a couple reasons, but mostly it was due to my hormones being much cheaper at Walgreens (before I had insurance through work).

Now, with actual health insurance, even though price-wise, I could consolidate these, yet I don’t. I suppose I just haven’t gotten around to it.

My name was legally changed in April 2013. Even still, my prescriptions haven’t gotten the updated name on them just yet. For a while, I was waiting for my insurance card to update. After that, I hadn’t been in to see the doctor since that time to get any changes made.

Anyway.

I went to Walgreens to pick up my hormone refill. This isn’t just any Walgreens, but rather it’s the one inside the Howard Brown Health Center (our local LGBT medical care facility). I went in just to find that my spironolactone (testosterone blocker) wasn’t ready. I explained that I was completely out and needed a refill.

Pharmacist #1: He needs a refill on his spironolactone. Can we get that for him?
Pharmacist #2: Get him a 3 day supply until we can get that filled.

Thinking, yes, okay, that’s probably just how I have to be in the system, I guess (but still wondering why they’d call me “he” when I was obviously presenting female, trying to refill my hormones, of all things). I asked, “hey, so, my name has been legally changed. Can I update that now?” They insisted that I just wait until my prescriptions were all written out to that name. *sigh* Okay.

When I was leaving, I stopped by the front desk at Howard Brown to set up my next appointment. They asked me my last name and date of birth. They loudly then said my birth name (as others were around). *sigh* Yes, that was me, sure.

The appointment was scheduled, but still under the old name in the system. I mentioned that my name had legally changed, but much like the pharmacy, I was told that I should just wait until I see the doctor to update any of that information

So, my name is not, in a legal sense, that old name. Why is it that these organizations, these LGBT-friendly organizations, make me jump through a series of hoops just to get that fixed to reflect my actual, legal name?

It all just bummed me out.

I traveled to Michigan this past weekend with my girlfriend and one of our other friends. We stayed at our friend’s family’s lakeside cottage. We had a lot of fun. I wore a bathing suit (top) in public for the first time ever. That was… that was an intense feeling. There were certain very familiar events during this vacation: Driving 8 hours both ways, spending days on the lake, watching fireworks, window shopping in tourist-filled towns; it all began to remind me of my own childhood vacations.

This bit of nostalgia, mixed with my usual bouts of anxiety, drove my mind and my mood into a negative space. This led to me becoming a little distant from my group in the final few days of vacation.

1005607_171693189670222_233183572_nIn the days since I’ve returned home, I’ve been giving more thought to what exactly was driving my mood and anxiety during the trip. The more I think about it, the more I come to this conclusion: So badly, I want to be a mother. So badly, I want to be able to give birth (though, I know this is impossible, given my lack of a uterus and whatnot). I want to take a son or daughter on vacations like that. When it comes down to it, I will never truly be a mother. I may someday be a parent, but would I ever have a kid that recognized me as their mother? I just… I just don’t think so.

I know for a fact that I could never be a father to a child, in the “doing father-type stuff” kind of way. If I have a kid, I want to be the best and most loving mother I could be. I want to shower my child with motherly love. I’m afraid that, even if I ended up parenting a child, I wouldn’t be treated as anything but a father or just awkward 2nd parent, and not truly a mother.

This worry is the same worry I have in regards to marriage. I cannot be a husband. I worry that, in the event that I get married, all the outdated wedding rituals (like “the man is supposed to propose“) and splits on who pays for what would default to me being “the husband.” Thinking about it makes me sick to my stomach.

These things just worry me. I’m just afraid that in some of the most intimate and important aspects of my life, I’ll never be viewed as a woman, but rather just a super-feminine man. That’s just… that’s not me. I’m not a super-feminine man. I’m a woman. I’m just as much of a woman as anyone else.

These thoughts came up as I approach the 9 month mark on hormone replacement therapy. As that’s the typical pregnancy length, I guess I had babies on the mind. Anyway, here’s a timeline I made.