A Holy Endeavor

Buckle up, dear readers, because this week I’m returning to the roots of this blog and talking about my life as a trans person.

This year, at least 28 states are voting on anti-trans legislation. There’s a lot that’s fucked up about this. Just this week in Arkansas, a bill was passed that bans gender-affirming healthcare for minors. The (Republican) governor vetoed the bill, calling it “vast government overreach.” The legislature overruled his veto with a dishearteningly large majority vote. Make no mistake – this bullshit that’s marketed as “protecting children” will actually do devastating harm. Taking away a trans child’s access to affirming healthcare isn’t going to make them not trans. It will just make them miserable. (I will again post this Twitter thread that makes some really good points about all of this.)

Today at work our Pride ERG hosted a half-hour hangout where people could come and sit with each other and with our feelings about what happened in Arkansas. I’m glad I went, and I appreciate the other people who showed up, but even as I felt seen in a way that was validating, I felt…exposed, in a way that was less comfortable. I am the only trans person I know of at my company, and I’m out as nonbinary there. Most people at work respect my pronouns (which are they/them, by the way, which is at least the third time my pronouns have shifted in the last decade, which I am not apologizing for, because identity is fluid and can be complicated) – no one is actively disrespecting my identity, but sometimes people forget. I do my best to educate people and stand up for myself and for the people around me. And it’s exhausting.

Inextricably tied to all of the feelings I’m having about trans identity being up for legislative debate are feelings around bodily autonomy. One of the hardest and most beautiful lessons I have learned in the ten years since I started coming to terms with the fact that I was not, in fact, cisgender, is that my body is my home. It’s a home that I struggled for years and years to relate to, until I realized it was mine to change and mold into a shelter I could feel comfortable in (at least some of the time). This has shown up in big ways – the changes from testosterone, and having gender-affirming top surgery – but it’s also shown up in smaller ways. I can paint my nails. I am currently sporting what feels like a super queer haircut that I love. In the middle space between those extreme examples, I can get tattoos.

I knew I wanted tattoos by the time I was in my teens, if not before. I got my first one eleven years ago this month, just a couple months before I turned 22. It’s a trinity knot on my right forearm. I wanted a reminder that the parts of myself that so often felt fractured – body, mind, and spirit – were all part of the singular being that was me. Four years later, I got three tarot cards tattooed on my left forearm: the Hermit (because I am an introvert and I believe in both finding my own truth and in lighting the way to help other people find theirs), the Ace of Wands (because I am a person with a lot of creative energy who finds joy in making beautiful things), and the Nine of Pentacles (which is my constant reminder that my body is the home that I am creating for myself). A couple of years after that I got a few more, which had less in-depth meanings, in some ways (there’s a leaf on my right ankle that I got because it was pretty; I have a classic Winnie-the-Pooh illustration on my right arm, and an earth/air alchemical symbol that reminds me to stay grounded and breathe under that), but all of them were ways to exercise my bodily autonomy.

On Tuesday, I got my sixth (or eighth, depending on if you count the tarot cards as one tattoo or three) tattoo:

D&D and other tabletop roleplaying games have been a big part of my life over the past few years – through them I’ve connected with people I might never have met otherwise, and I’ve found so much joy in collaborative storytelling and getting to play with my friends as an adult. Just in the last month I started DMing my first game, and it’s been a blast. I knew that I wanted a D&D-themed tattoo to capture some of that. I told the artist (who has now done the majority of my tattoos) that I wanted “some sort of dragon and dice situation,” and I could not be happier with what she came up with. This little dragon clutching its d20 is better than anything I’d envisioned ahead of time.

As I was chatting with the artist during the tattoo, I mentioned that as a teenager I had sketchbooks full of dragons. I drew them because no one could tell me “that’s not how a dragon looks” – it was one of the things I loved about fantasy. She asked me what drew me to dragons, and I honestly didn’t have an answer at the time, but I’ve continued to think about it since then. I think there’s something about the wildness of them that called to me. In all the fantasy novels I read, there was this sense that you couldn’t really tame a dragon. Even in the ones where dragons and humans got along, it was because the dragons chose to treat the humans gently. There was something about that power that was appealing, for a whole host of reasons I’m sure I could delve into with a little help from my therapist.

Last fall, I wrote an autobiographical song that I kind of set aside after that songwriting session was over, but the chorus has been stuck in my head the past couple of days:

I’m building this wondrous body, creating my home
Something more suited to housing my curious soul
I dress it up in ink, in wool, and in leather
I know this act of creation is a holy endeavor

I don’t know that I have a huge sweeping point in all of this, except to say that trans people (like all people) are sacred, and the act of self-determination and self-discovery is a holy endeavor. I was raised with the idea that humans are created in the image of the Divine, and while I have a lot of complicated feelings about the picture of Divinity I was raised on, I think trans people are every bit as much a reflection of the Divine as anyone else. I am angry and sad and disheartened that there are so many people in power in the world right now who refuse to see that.

Scattered Thursday Thoughts

Hello, dear readers. We have made it to Thursday. I am not feeling the greatest this morning, for what could be any number of reasons, but I’m here and I’m still strangely hopeful.

Yesterday was Transgender Day of Visibility. I updated a many-years-old post I’d done on a previous TDoV on Facebook and reposed it there yesterday…I’m not on Facebook super often these days, but sometimes it still feels important to say things. Visibility can be exhausting, though. I’m fortunate to have enough mental and emotional bandwidth most days to be okay with being an educator, but every conversation about why they/them pronouns deserve respect (and are grammatically correct, though this should be much further down the priority list than it is) and why cis people should care about the issues faced by trans people takes its toll. There are a bunch of bills in various states right now trying to restrict trans-affirming healthcare for trans youth and to ban them from sports and it’s all incredibly frustrating. (For a great perspective on the healthcare issue, see this Twitter thread.) All that said, it was lovely to see so many of my fellow trans folks celebrating themselves yesterday. We deserve to be seen and celebrated just like everyone else does.

I got my first dose of the Moderna vaccine on Tuesday! (This may be a factor in why I’m feeling a bit under the weather today.) This means I’m about six weeks from being able to hug some people I haven’t been able to hug in a very long time, and I am excited about that.

I feel like I had other things I was going to ramble about this morning, but I have a training to get to in the next couple of minutes, so I think we’ll end here for now. I hope you’re all hanging in there, and getting vaccinated, and still wearing your masks. Keep taking care of yourselves and each other, friends.

On the Validity of Self-Definition

A well-meaning coworker asked me several months ago if she could give my contact information to a young person she knew who had recently come out as transmasculine. I handed over my email, but I never heard anything from the kid. Yesterday, after coming into my office for a brief reprieve in the middle of her day, my coworker asked if I’d ever heard from them, and then proceeded to tell me,

She’s just confused. You know what she did for gay pride? She wore boxer shorts, and a…a…well, you know, a thing. But then she had no shirt, and suspenders and pasties. I mean, people who want to be boys, they’re not going to show their breasts! That’s the last thing they’d want to do. Right? She just doesn’t know what she wants.

She then emphasized her point by explaining that they all still called this kid by their given name, and they never said anything (though I can clearly recall her saying that they were really upset by the use of their given name over their taken name several months ago), so clearly, they’re not trans. They’re just confused.

And because it was in my workplace (which is not especially unsafe, but is still not a place I feel I can be particularly vocal about identity politics), I smiled a tight smile, and shrugged noncommittally, and muttered something about that being a hard age for everyone, and she finally left, with one last, “She’s just confused.”

Once it was over, my office, which I have worked so hard to turn into a place of calm and safety (for myself and for my coworkers), felt toxic. I felt physically sick. And I felt like a traitor, both to this kid that I don’t know, and to the trans community at large. Because implied in my coworker’s statement was the idea that I behave the way she thinks a trans person is supposed to act. And I hate that, because I feel like I’ve been assimilated into this toxic culture of gender essentialism that I don’t want to join, but to dismantle.

It’s probably true that the majority of transmasculine people aren’t super into showing their breasts off (in public or elsewhere). But though that may be the prevalent narrative of what transmasculinity looks like, it’s not the whole story (or even any of the story) for all transmasculine people. Who knows? For this kid, who probably can’t afford surgery and who maybe doesn’t have the strongest support system, walking around shirtless at pride might have been a way for them to feel empowered, to reclaim their body as their own. Or maybe they’re genderqueer or otherwise nonbinary, and wanted to express their own gender fluidity by contrasting boxers and a packer with pasties. The fact is that I don’t know what this kid’s motivations were, and neither does my coworker. But whatever the motivation, when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter. Their body is their own, and no one else gets to decide for them what is or is not the “right” way to exist in that body.

There is not one right way to be a trans person, no matter what the media tells us, no matter what cis- and heteronormative culture tells us…no matter what we tell each other. Each one of us is the sole expert on our own lives, on our own hearts and minds and motivations. Anyone else who tries to define those things for us is doing a disservice both to trans people in general and to themselves, because those of us who have learned to define our own lives have a lot to teach the rest of the world, if only they’d stop trying to categorize us into nonexistence long enough to listen.