I had a weird conversation a few months ago. I was actually so floored by it that I don’t even know what I said in response when it actually happened, but it’s stuck with me enough that I want to write about it.
I was hanging out with a friend of mine who mentioned that he had recently heard my spouse-person referring to me as “trans”. Which, I mean, yeah. This friend knows this about me, for the record.
Or at least I thought he did? He knows that I am genderqueer. He knows that I use gender neutral pronouns, that I’ve changed my name, that my gender expression has shifted considerably over the years. I think he knows that I write about it all the time, too, even.
But apparently all of these things didn’t signify trans to him. And his next question clarified why.
“Does that mean you are planning to transition?” he asked.
As I say, I was floored. I didn’t know what to say, and I honestly can’t remember what I did say. I have made, and continue to make, so many transitions with respect to my gender over the past three years that I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
I know what he was actually asking; he wanted to know if I intend to pursue gender-related medical interventions, like surgeries, or hormone therapies. But the entire framing of the question made it clear that he really had just somehow completely failed the register the enormous amount of personal work I have been doing with respect to my gender identity and the expression thereof.
It’s exhausting to realize that even people who support me don’t recognize that I am trans, somehow. It’s also exhausting to be reminded that the entire trans experience is still reduced in most people’s minds to a list of medical procedures.
And so I guess I just want to take a moment to ad my voice to the litany, and repeat what so many trans people have been saying for so long:
There is no correct way to be trans. There is no definitive “transition” action that can be taken. Some trans people seek out medical interventions. Some do not. Some of us change our names. Some do not. Most of us change our pronouns, but some do not. Some come out to the world at large, some only ever share their reality with the people closest to them.
Every. Single. Thing. Any trans person does to affirm their own sense of self and to make others see them as they want to be seen is a form of their transition. It doesn’t matter what form it takes, it is valid, and it is real.
If you were born into a culture that functions on a binary gender system1, and your gender is not the one you are assigned at birth, you are trans. Whether or not you choose to do anything about it, ever. Regardless of what form your expression does or does not take.
1. Some people with non-binary identities that are recognized within their cultures (including Two-Spirit, Hijra, and other non-Western genders) do not identify as trans, as the social and political construction of trans identities is not relevant to the cultural context of their gender. The application of trans theory and narratives to these identities is inherently colonialist, and I do my best not to participate in the appropriation of these identities by (usually white) trans people and communities.
Read more about this:
Transgender Identities in an Age of Globalization and Colonialism
Anagnori’s glossary of transgender, non-binary and genderqueer words directly addresses colonialism (and its relationship with binarism), and provides links to information on some non-Western genders.