It took me 37 years to accept that I am transgender, and that is not due to a lack of exposure to the topic. It is due to internalised transphobia, fear and confusion.
Unmanaged depression through most of my early adult life kept me distracted and anxious and the gay/queer community allowed me to hide as a flamboyant gay man for many, many years.
When I would feel threatened or unsafe I would retreat from my comfortable feminine gender expression to a more masculine presentation, in the hope of either staying safe or making myself more appealing to others.
In the meantime, I satiated my need for connection with anonymous sex and random hook-ups, all the time feeling like it wasn’t my body I was abusing.
The closest I ever came to transitioning was when I changed my name to Seven around 2008. At the time I was wearing makeup and feminine clothes – even knee-high stilettos to my graduate classes. But I knew my surroundings. I rarely had to go outside of the Social Science building and it was full of friends and supporters.
Internalised transphobia. I didn’t think I deserved happiness unless I towed the gender line. Shocking to realise I thought that way, despite everything about my life at that time being trans inclusive and extremely liberal. Yet it was there, courtesy of…who knows? Society, my father, my family, the media? And what is even more shocking is that it is still there.
I would like you to join me in imagining a different kind of world – a different kind of religion. I want to challenge the things that have always kept me from connecting with religion – the lack of queerness and otherness, and the abhorrent past- and offer a new model. A new way to look at the things we find familiar and a new way to discover those we don’t.
From a world rich with talent and art motivated not by greed but survival and originality I offer you a list of Saints: Divine, Patron Saint of Filth; Pazuzu, Patron Saint of the Damned; Klaus Nomi, Patron Saint of the Other; Leigh Bowery, Patron Saint of Fantasy; Antony Hegardy, Patron Saint of Music; Ani DiFranco, Patron Saint of the Truth; Diamanda Galas, Patron Saint of Anger; Amanda Lapore, Patron Saint of Vanity. The “sins” are a reality. Let’s stop shaming them and accept and understand them.
These are but the tip of a massive underground glacier. For those who may doubt that trans and queer people deserve to be saints, the next time you read the news keep an eye out for a story where a trans or queer person enacts violence on someone they don’t know in the streets… or kills them… it doesn’t happen. And yet, we get killed and harassed by strangers every day. Every day we are forced to swallow our tears and our anger and walk away from abuse without retaliation. If that’s not sainthood I don’t know what is.
Because of this abuse and violence, we are left with an ever-growing list of martyrs, people killed for having the audacity to exist. Mostly trans women and trans women of color, though certainly also trans men.Similarly the artifacts, or relics, of our existence should also be elevated. Hip pads, gaffs, binders, packers – all holy items of empowerment and instruments of conformity. Contradictions are inevitable in any religion.
What would the world look like if cisgendered people (people who feel no conflict between their sex and their gender identity: a female who feels like a woman, a male who feels like a man) were used to seeing trans and queer bodies not as medical curiosities with a voyeuristic focus on what’s between our legs, but as saints, or martyrs, or as saviours.
Most of us just want to be respected as people deserving of life – but what if the world went beyond that in the way it does for white cisgendered people?
Would I still be battling the thoughts in my own mind that perhaps I deserved the: “what the fuck was that” I just got on the street, because maybe I don’t look enough like a woman? Why should I have to be perfect before I’m allowed to not be harassed by children, by your children, by the children raised seeing only a sliver of the worlds’ diversity?
Why am I subject to your lack of education? Why is it me who feels degraded when I stand in front of you, full face of makeup and D-cup breasts and are STILL called ‘he?’ Why aren’t you ashamed of yourself? I’m tired of being the bigger person, being the saint, freezing and hiding and left feeling like my legs are made of lead and my head is full of hot helium.
The world isn’t transphobic, trans people are. The woman who called me a faggot then turned her back and walked away without quickening her pace or glancing back isn’t afraid of me, that isn’t what fear looks like. Fear looks like leaving your house afraid of what the cost of being yourself might be. I don’t have gender dysphoria, the world does. I know what my body looks like and I know who I am, it’s the world that wants it to all fit. My dysphoria springs not from me, but from the way I’m treated. Some of my choices are for me, others, unfortunately, are for safety.
So stop. Stop today, we’ve had enough. Killing us and calling us names and using the wrong pronouns won’t make us go away. Take a vow to these new 10 commandments:
1. Thou shall not be concerned with our genitals.
2. Thou shall not police our voices or bodies.
3. Thou shall not assume anything about us.
4. Thou shall not teach thy children bigotry.
5. Thou shall keep thy comments to thyself.
6. Thou shall keep thy hands to thyself.
7. Thou shall call us by our chosen names.
8. Thou shall not deny us autonomy.
9. Thou shall not rape us.
10. Thou shall not kill us.
Spread the word with the speed of negativity and stop others when you see it. If you don’t think anything I’ve said applies to you, prove it in actions. I have a student, I teach quilting classes, she’s 75 years old and she has, on more than one occasion, corrected others when they use the wrong pronoun, and corrected herself. That is what an ally looks like. That is how acceptance becomes real. Don’t turn a misgendering into a situation where the trans person is making you feel better for getting it wrong. Own your mistake and do the work because it’s yours to do.
This is your last lesson in how to behave. You have all you need to go forth and make a change.