It seems whenever there’s a profile or personal narrative of a trans person in mainstream media it has to be somehow tragic. And I’m so over it. Because I think we’re amazing.
There’s one kind of narrative about transition that makes it in the mainstream: I was suffering constantly, I knew I was in the wrong body, so I had to transition. The folks in these profiles can afford to access surgery, another requirement of the story. As it played out in the (have we mentioned it’s) completely awful New York Times profile of Chaz Bono, “the surgery,” in this case top surgery, is presented as horrific bodily mutilation, an extreme someone’s pushed to and that’s OK only because they’re suffering so much. Janet Mock does a much better job telling her own story, but it also follows this familiar structure.
There are certainly plenty of people this narrative fits, and there’s nothing wrong with it per se – except that it’s the only one that seems to be allowed into the mainstream. Yes, a lot of trans folks have to reach some sort of breaking point to begin transition, and for a lot of us that can be a pretty difficult place to reach. I don’t think this means there’s something so wrong with us we just have to be able to get the mental help provided by hormones or surgery or simply changing our presentation. I think it means there’s something seriously wrong with a culture so invested in keeping people in the gender boxes we’re assigned at birth that it can take a major push to break out.
I did reach a pretty extreme point, coming the closest I ever did to suicide – the decision to take my gender seriously and the decision to stay alive were one in the same. But I didn’t have an overwhelming knowledge of being “born in the wrong body” – in fact, I don’t think my body’s “wrong” (or that a desire to modify it is particularly abnormal) – the problem is with how other people perceive it. Growing up, there was mostly an ever present, nagging sense that something wasn’t right, a feeling akin to telling an uncomfortable lie, except all the time. This may have something to do with being raised in a Christian fundamentalist environment where folks actively worked to squash my gender non-conformity. Or it may not – I don’t have to fit the standard “always knew she was a girl” to know I’m a girl now.
Stories about what it’s like to be trans focus on the tragic, too. This includes media coverage of violence and discrimination experienced by trans folks, which can especially paint trans women of color in a tragic light, something I feel I play in to, because it’s important to write about – but it’s not our everything. It also includes personal narratives about being trans, like this recent New York Times piece, which is really about having trouble getting laid because of the author’s crippling depression, but seems like the problem is his transness. Trust me, I know plenty of trans guys who like guys, like that piece’s author, and are getting plenty laid.
Even when I write or speak about trans experience, there’s inevitably someone somewhere on the internet who responds with how tragic it is that someone has to live like this – who sees my transness as an illness, either something wrong with my mind that I’m sadly off about (the compassionate anti-trans take) or something that should be respected for social justice reasons but is still so, so sad.
Here’s the thing: we’ve all got our own experiences, but in mine being trans is not tragic. It’s incredible. In fact, I’m fucking amazing. And my transness has a lot to do with that. I’ve broken one of the most absolute rules handed down by our culture, and that gives me a vision that goes beyond what seems possible to what’s needed and desired. Coming out may have felt like a necessity, but it’s given me incredible strength, the ability to take big leaps of faith, make exciting mistakes, and find liberating new possibilities. I’ve become a more caring, compassionate friend in a real way, because I also take care of myself. And it’s given me an extraordinary community if trans and gender non-conforming folks and allies who are honest, direct, incredibly loving, and fucking hilarious. And hot. So damn hot.
What’s tragic is a culture that thinks trans folks are so wrong it wants us dead, or that insists we must conform to a tragic narrative to excuse our existence. That’s the problem, not being trans. Which I happen to think is pretty fucking awesome.