It turns out that I, a cis, have a lot in common with transgender women and men. (Stop laughing, transgender people.)
It started when I discovered how I completely relate to transgenders’ quandaries about clothes.
Duh, we’re all alike under our clothes and other skins.
Still, it wasn’t obvious until I read about their experiences, fears, confusion and anger. In doing so, transgender writers raise their vulnerability yet another notch, and I admire that.
I’m mesmerized by my mirrored self in their stories; I find myself nodding and saying “YES!” again and again. In those few paragraphs their humanity and its pain become visceral, and resonate down to my bones, an earthquake and all its aftershocks.
Like Cherno Biko. Outwardly I couldn’t be more different than her, but Cherno’s description of the struggle to “celebrate my body” is absolutely universal.
…for the majority of my life I internalized the shame of being too fat, too black and too intersex for mainstream America. Everyday in ways big and small I was told that my body didn’t belong in their bathrooms, on their airplanes and especially not on their runways. However since relocating to NYC earlier this summer I’ve become one of the first plus size trans models of color.
I believe that when we show up whole and authentically we allow others to do the same.
YES. To show up whole and authentically: the best any human can do.
Similarly, what Cherno writes about her locs (aka dreadlocks) is entangled with me and my naturally outrageous hair. The feeling of memories embedded in hair, the sadness of a haircut – me too, me too.
Transgender women who retain the body hair of their male physicality have an especially tough time. Still, any cis woman could relate to fear about wearing “risky” clothing as described by Alok Vaid Menon:
Here’s the thing: being fabulous doesn’t protect you. Compliments don’t keep you safe. The thing about being a transfeminine person is that everyone always remarks on how “fierce” or “fabulous” you are, but few people ask how you are getting home. Every day I look at my closet I have to ask myself how I’m getting home. Every day I look at my closet I have to ask myself how I’m feeling that day. Am I ready to endure constant street harrassment? Am I ready to be gawked at? Am I ready to have people take photos of me without their consent? Am I coming home late?
YES. That is a dilemma I understand. My peak bimbo years were a roller coaster: feeling great about being sexy, then abruptly feeling terrified about the attention that would bring.
More than anything, I relate to transgender people because they don’t fit into a box and they rebel against being put there.
Identity is not a given. The transgender writers of Gender 2.0 are pretty defiant about that, and their defiance makes me stronger too.
I cheer them on from the comments section and read them obsessively because this is me too: I am all my labels and none of them, and why don’t you just listen to what I ACTUALLY say instead of what you want to hear or think you know?
Best example: Tyler Ford. Tyler prefers the pronoun “they” and “them.” After several years as a transgender man, Tyler has taken on agender as a more accurate self-description.
They succinctly tell us what it is to stride and dance and limp along those lines which divide us into male and female, black and white.
At 24, Tyler shows a calm patience about this process:
I wasn’t black or white, but both; I wasn’t a man or a woman, but neither. The two years I spent living as a man, and the following two years spent navigating my identity as an agender person inspired me to question everything I had been trained to see and embrace about myself — and everything I’d been taught to look away from. … I now know that there is room for me to hold and explore all of my identities — though I am still figuring out what it means to be black, what it means to be agender, what it means to be me.
And that self-knowledge is evident in the decision to wear a crop-top to a concert:
Nothing I wear is ever read as neutral; I, myself, am rarely read as neutral even to the people (friends included) I repeatedly come out to. As a result, I change into a tight crop top. Even though it’s not what I’m in the mood to wear, I prefer the ways in which people take one second longer to think before they speak about me when I wear one — even if it means tripping over pronouns and gendered language.
I had my own kinds of subversive defiance at that age, but I would love to have had their level of self-possession to go with it.
Tyler, Cherno, Alok, your everydayness gives me courage. When you all put your true selves out there nonstop, what the hell do I ever have to worry about?
What do any of us ever have to worry about, when we all feel these things and yet remain alive in our vulnerable human skins?
Today the penny’s a 2015: a year when I’m grateful to be able to read the stories of transgender people, told by them and not through some mainstream media interpreter.