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When you are transgender, you carry the knowledge that many people believe you should not exist. That you do not exist. That you are sick. That you need help. That you need to die.
We have no homeland. We have no Mecca. We fit in on the edges of a broader LGBT culture but are sometimes barely tolerated even by many who purport to represent us. (This is not a blanket statement, but the antipathy between the transgender community and parts of the larger LGB coalition is well documented.) The parameters of our own tiny culture are defined by external hostility.
At puberty our bodies experience irreversible changes. Since my own puberty is decades gone, my normal male voice will never naturally be any higher or softer than it is, and so I begin the long and arduous work of changing the way I speak. A trans man will grow unwanted breasts that require painful and expensive surgery to remove, a procedure that leaves scars. Those of us who live through puberty enter adulthood feeling at war with bodies. It’s a hell that has no ready parallel in cis life.
A very lucky few are now afforded the chance to transition before puberty, and being able to do so drastically reduces later symptoms of dysphoria. Those who are not so lucky face the prospect of long, expensive, and often painful medical intervention.
No two trans people are the same. Depending on any number of factors, some feel little dysphoria while others are almost crippled. But there is one thread woven through the lives of every transgender person, regardless of the nature of their dysphoria or any external factors: hate. No trans person in the world is exempt from feeling, at all times, the hot furnace blast of hatred down the back of our necks. If we’re lucky we come out into the arms of supportive families, friends, and communities. If we’re unlucky coming out means cutting off all ties to old lives, parents, siblings, even children. But there is no degree of privilege or luck accorded a transgender person on this world that can stop random people from muttering “tranny” under their breath at the supermarket checkout line, or assuming any random trans person is an easy target to be raped and murdered when walking alone.
This is life for out trans people, whether or not they can pass: no passing privilege is solid enough to erase the fear of being clocked, and those who cannot or will not pass are easy targets.
This is life for closeted trans people, whether or not they can work towards transition: knowing that the medical intervention required to save your life will also make your life less valuable, less important, less safe, less loved.
Being trans means accepting life as a never-ending Hobson’s choice: our options are transition or not. Transition is dangerous and expensive. Not transitioning means living under a cloud of depressive, dysphoric haze so thick that some never escape.
It’s not an easy choice, and many opt out entirely. Another pile of bodies.
Those that come out to or are outed by their families as minors can be forced into conversion therapy so traumatic that the suicide rate is rumored in the region of 50% or even higher (these organizations do not publish death statistics). Another pile of bodies.
Those that do transition can face alienation so severe that thoughts of suicide become a daily companion. Another pile of bodies.
Those that transition are often simply murdered. Another pile of bodies.
There is a great deal more to being trans than trauma and pain. So many wonderful experiences – some of which remain incommunicable to outsiders, but many more that grant us special perspectives that could in the fullness of time blossom into a unique and abiding contribution to culture.
Most people don’t see any of that. They don’t know our pain. They can’t be bothered to listen when we tell them in the broadest terms possible that we have been given no choice at all: a quirk in fetal development marks us for life as irrefutably “other.” We don’t have any say in the matter.
We don’t “identify” as anything but who we are.
America is cruel to her minority populations. As educated and empathetic as I believed myself to be, voicing instantly gave me a newfound appreciation for the existential threats posed to non-white non-cis communities every day. It’s one thing to know it in your head and believe it and even to act politically in accordance with these principles: support Black Lives Matter, protest inequality, fight for social justice. To be "woke."
It’s another thing entirely to know – to learn sometimes in a single terrifying moment – that the target has been painted on your back as well. You don’t understand safety until it’s gone.
We stand and fight for dignity and respect with every other marginalized group that recognizes us as comrades-in-arms.
Trans people exist in every society, have existed at all times throughout history, and are equally represented among all other vulnerable populations. It doesn’t discriminate. It is often comorbid with various kinds of mental illness and neuroatypicality. Trans people are as likely to be disabled or to suffer from chronic illness as any other demographic – perhaps moreso due to the decline in standards of living experienced by many trans people as a result of coming out. Many trans people are homeless. Trans people can be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight. Trans people come in every color. Trans people must often resort to sex work in order to survive – one of the few industries that welcomes us with open arms – and that stigma multiplies. At every level our desperation makes us vulnerable to be used, exploited, and discarded.
There are still few enough of us living openly that for large swaths of the country transgender people are as real as martians. Some parents would prefer their children die during conversion therapy than live as their true gender. They hold on to precious memories of their sons and daughters who died for needing to be recognized as daughters and sons.
To be trans is to understand that everything in this world is precarious. Everything you love is contingent. Even love is contingent.
To be trans is to understand that every day is a gift, every new morning an achievement.
Every day a victory.
We do not give up, we cannot give up. We cannot cede one inch of our minuscule, miserable, beautiful territory for any reason, to anyone. Any concession and every setback we experience as a community, whether at the hands of far-right politicians or our supposed “allies” in progressive circles, can be measured in hate crime and suicide statistics. Another pile of bodies.
No more bodies.
Every trans life matters. Every death diminishes me, weakens me, steals a precious voice from my community.
Take care of yourself. Love your loved ones. Help as many people as you can. Live another day. It's important that we all, every single one of us, live to see the end of this. We are a small community but we are capable of extraordinary acts of courage and support. The smallest gestures of love can save lives.
We save each other.
We must survive. We must help each other. We must work. We must achieve great things separately and together. We must love great loves. We cannot take one single moment for granted. We don’t get second chances. We must drink life to the lees.
Nothing has changed. The world does not hate us more or less now: it hates us as much as it always has. We are not surprised by the flood tide of bigotry that threatens to drown every meager hard-fought victory we have achieved. We are gratified by every ally who stands with us in this fight. We expect that we will have to fight, because we always have to fight.
How do we fight?
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