‘What’s your favourite thing about being trans[gender]?’ a friend asked me in a rather drunken crawl back to a friend’s to continue being irresponsible. This sort of drunken conversation I get fairly regularly. Gotta laugh. My initial reaction was something to the effect of, ‘Nothing,’ but after a bit of ambling and babble I realised that wasn’t true.
Being transgender is generally regarded as a bad thing, even within the transgender community. It’s certainly a social disadvantage and I’ve written before that nobody wants to be trans. In crude terms, my friend’s question was like asking someone what’s their favourite part about cancer. The only real answer one can give is flippant.
Many people I went on to put this question to agreed that it was a wholly negative thing: that the best part was the full stop at the end of the word transition; that they hate their circumstance and they plan on burying that fact about themselves as soon as possible. Or, if they don’t plan on going into what’s known as stealth, they remain glad it’s done with.
“Even within the LGBT+ community we’re the minority within the minority..”
It’s hard to find the positives with so much negativity. We’re told from an early age that it’s wrong to be this thing. We’re told we’re not welcome in various gendered spaces and society generally just doesn’t seem to know what to do with us. Even within the LGBT+ community we’re the minority within the minority – though we’re growing. Stonewall went for a long time declaring they were an LGB organisation and it wasn’t until Ruth Hunt showed up that suddenly the T was not only back but a priority. There is tremendous pressure to pass; to become invisible. Those who pass survive, right?
One friend responded to the question by pointing out that before she came out she hated being transgender, but once she came out it became something she loved about herself. That her journey of self actualisation was the thing that helped her find the positivity in being transgender and now she loves herself, it’s part of who she is and so she loves being transgender. Another friend mentioned that the journey of self discovery wasn’t very fun but it’s been very positive for her to reach the place where she is happily transgender.
Self actualisation was a theme from the positive answers: having chosen one’s own name, living as oneself, being themselves. For many, the best thing about being transgender is just being themselves. I should point out that my highly unscientific poll consisted mainly of folks who were out and ‘full time,’ so people in different stages might have different thoughts. Still, the sense that transgender people want to just live their lives was a presence in the answers I got. That actually they were happiest just being themselves.
Others talked about their sense of belonging. One mentioned the friendships she’s formed from joining the transgender community. Another stressed that belonging to a broader queer community was very important to her. There is a sense of solidarity in people’s responses that was very touching and positive.
My answer was the insight I have into society: sexism, gender, culture. I was never a man, but I was assigned that role and lived it best I could. The change of status and position in society gave me a perspective most cis people can’t have. People agreed that was a great thing about being transgender, but didn’t pick it as their favourite thing because the feeling of just living authentically was more valuable in their minds.
I liked this question because of how it reframed being transgender as a positive thing – there are good things. Enough good things to have a favourite thing. I admit my reaction mirrored those of many: there is nothing good about being transgender, that actually we’d give anything to not be transgender and it was a damned inconvenience. I understand those feelings. I share them.
Many of the reasons are derived from the negativity attached to being transgender: we get a rush from self actualisation because we’re not encouraged or, in some cases, allowed to express ourselves as we wish. Essentially, so many see it as an aberration even now that we can’t be ourselves. That we love being ourselves because actually we haven’t been able to be that from the word go is pretty sobering.
Similarly, the communities we form are to create safe spaces because otherwise we don’t have a safe place to be. We form friendships and identify with a larger community because those people are also unsafe. Actually, the whole solidarity thing is the product of a circumstance that is so horrible and protracted that we can’t not band together.
“I gained my perspective because I was shoved in a cultural box and I didn’t understand that I had options.”
My own perspective is gained from those very same things: I lacked information, vocabulary, and courage to come out when I knew I was transgender. If I had the tools and vocabulary at age three, I would have come out. Some three-year-olds these days do, which is brilliant. Most don’t. I gained my perspective because I was shoved in a cultural box and I didn’t understand that I had options. And I was unsafe – not from my birth family but from everyone else: kids at school, teachers, people on the street. It was seen as a bad thing to be; a punishable offence.
The challenge is to find the positivity in what we are, even if we are the victims of circumstances. Understand that I’m not telling people to just stay positive. Nothing makes me want to murder someone quite like being told to stay positive. What I’m saying is that we have good things about what we are, even if they rise from negative circumstance. What my friend taught me with this question is there is a nice way to think of my transgenderness. A significant first step.
I’m not just happily female. I’m also happily transgender.