Beginning in the fall of 2006, as I began to plan for my transition and think about what the future as Abby would be like, I always felt fear when I thought of those moments in public when people would realize that I am transgender or transsexual (I used both terms depending on the situation). I felt that same fear when I went out in public as Abby, watching carefully for disapproving glances and listening for rude remarks everywhere I went. As time passed and I didn’t see those glances or hear those remarks, I began to believe that I could live in this world as Abby without “being detected,” in other words, I thought I could “pass” without notice. As that belief grew, I became more and more confident in myself and more and more comfortable with my decision to transition. When I finally transitioned, my fear of being “clocked” as transgender was as great as ever, but, based on my experience, I believed that the risks of that actually happening were tiny, if not nonexistent. Without that belief and the concomitant belief that I could escape the shaming, harassment and even violence that is often the experience of my trans sisters and brothers, I doubt I would have transitioned.
A very curious thing has happened since then, however. Beginning only two or three months after my transition (on May 14, 2007), I began to realize that I am proud of who I am and of the many challenges and the tremendous pain that I overcame to learn the truth about myself and have the courage to live that truth as I do today. Today, I don’t bring up the fact that I am trans with most people. However, when it’s relevant or the moment can be used to teach about trans people, especially that we’re not freaks or perverts but people not so different than most, simply striving to live in peace and with a modicum of happiness, I am willing, and I do, tell people about my past. Yes, I still feel a tinge of fear each time I tell someone for the first time but I have never yet allowed that fear to stop me from revealing the truth of who I am, and I hope I never do. Considering the fear with which I began this journey, I am constantly amazed at the comfort that I feel with the knowledge that I am trans and my willingness to share that information with others whenever and wherever it might help to create greater understanding and acceptance of trans people.
For example, a few weeks ago, I had lunch with a woman friend from my Course in Miracles study group. I have never discussed being trans in that group (they’re nearly all women) because it has never seemed necessary or appropriate. However, based on a few things this friend had said to me in private, I was confident she would be comfortable with that information. How did I know? Well, when I first told her that I was applying for a job in Washington, D.C. with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, after congratulating and encouraging me, she asked if I had seen an article that had just run in the NY Times the previous week about trans men attending women-only colleges. Given that she, not I, brought up the topic of trans people, and given her other comments about that article, not only did I conclude that she would probably be open to the information that I am trans, I also assumed that she had already figured it out and was trying to communicate her knowledge to me in some kind of “code.” So, a few weeks later, we decided to go to lunch. I went with the intention of telling her about myself and even believing that things transgender were likely to be a major part of our conversation. As it turned out, however, although we talked about many things, including my job application, an appropriate opening to bring up that topic didn’t appear until we had talked for more than an hour. For reasons that I no longer recall, I began telling her that, back in the 1970’s, after graduating from college, I had worked on a “hotshot” crew fighting forest fires and even, for one summer, as a smokejumper (those are those crazy guys – back then they were all guys – who jump out of perfectly good airplanes to fight forest fires). She responded that I must have been one of the first women to do that. Recognizing this opportunity for what it was, I told her, “Well, actually, I wasn’t a woman at the time.” After looks of surprise and then understanding crossed her face, I added that I am a male-to-female transsexual. The rest of our conversation was about being trans, what it means and what my experience has been like. (As it turned out, contrary to what I thought, she hadn’t figured out that I am trans, although she had had some suspicions.) At the end of our conversation, she simply congratulated me for finding a way to peace in my life and praised me for my courage in following my truth, which, at least among women, is the typical response of those who learn about my past. (During our conversation, I told her about the challenge that transgender children face and about Trans Youth Family Allies and my friend Kim Pearson, TYFA’s Executive Director, one of the best friends that transgender children in the U.S. have. Not too long after, my friend talked to Kim and is now volunteering for them. Now, that’s the kind of happy ending I like!)
All of this is simply a lead-in to quote a blog post by my friend Callie about being trans and proud. Yesterday, she wrote about her struggle to find a way to attend this weekend’s Trans Pride March in Northampton, Massachusetts and be “present at the event, present in a visible and potent way,” given her obligations to care for her parents with whom she lives as their son. As she wrote, she discovered the message that she would have carried there if she had gone: “that pride is pride, lifting us when we actually embody our best possibilities, which, I hope, is the goal of the transgender quest.” Today, she wrote the words she would have spoken at the March if she had gone and been asked to speak about the experience of being trans, as she has many times before. Here is part of what she wrote:
We are not gathered to say that we are proud to be trans. Our being trans is an accident of birth, just another way some people are born.
No, we are gathered here to say that we are trans and we are proud. And in a society that works hard to shame non-normative people into silence, that is a remarkable thing to say. We have taken the shaming and the ostracism, taken the threats and the fear, taken the abuse and the separation, taken the pounding that tried to keep us down, taken the brickbats and the bombs, and we have emerged. We have emerged alive, we have emerged thriving, we have emerged proud.
And who are we not to be proud? Are we not children of the creator as much as any other human on earth? Do we not have the possibility of wonder written into our souls? Do we not have the spark of life burning in us?
Many people still tell us that we should be ashamed, ashamed of who we are, ashamed of our choices, ashamed of our very nature. They tell us that by being visible we can corrupt their children, make the world safer for sexual predators, offend those who value fear and obedience to the norms over expression. They tell us that we are indulgent and challenging, and we should be very ashamed of who we are.
But we gather here together to say this, to share this: It is possible to be trans and proud. And, in fact, any trans person who has created a whole, integrated and healthy expression in the face of such shaming, has a great deal to be proud of, transcending the internalized self-loathing to come out into the sunlight of such a bright June day!
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We are proud of the transpeople who are out today, showing themselves as valuable members of society, just doing the everyday work. They challenge the lessons that all transpeople are sick and broken, and show that we can be as potent as any human when we come from our own gifts.
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We are proud of the history people like us wrote, and proud of the future that we can imagine, where kids can actually be who they are, bringing out the best of them without being shackled by compulsory gender that puts genital configuration over the power of their open heart.
We are here today saying that yes, yes, yes, it is possible to be trans and to be proud.
And that is a message that there is no going back from. It is a message that all need to hear.
And it is a message we need to carry in our heart every day.
It is possible to be trans and to be proud.
All I can say to that is “hear, hear!” And thank you, Callie, for these words and for reminding me today that I am proud of who I am.