Pride Month Stories #5: A Transgender Passenger on Trans Inclusion and Acceptance

*Names and certain details have been changed to protect confidentiality

~~

“It’s not like I’d want to fight in the military, even if I could. But that’s not the point. Some members of my community might. That could be their dream. So the point is, fuck Trump.”

It’s July 2017 and Passenger Bailey* is sharing his reaction to Trump’s transgender military ban.

 Minutes earlier he’d gotten in (somewhat cautiously, unsure as to whether or not I was his driver) and asked to be taken to American Canyon.

As we drive by Six Flags, passengers scream from the roller coaster cars clattering across the vibrant yellow tracks to our left. When I ask Bailey if he’s ever been, he says he used to go as a kid.

“Me too!” I tell him. “I loved Fright Fest, and their Holidays in the Park. I always wished they would have a Gay Day. My friends and I went to the one at Great America once and it was so much fun.”

Bailey asks if I’m queer, and after I respond affirmatively, his response to my asking him how he identifies is “trans and queer as fuck.”

Discussion of Trump’s military ban segues into general conversation about trans issues— namely how despite society’s burgeoning yet cautious acceptance of it, a collective understanding is still lacking.

Trans people are often invalidated in ways that are both subtle and not so subtle. One example that comes to mind is from the show The Fosters. Callie’s boyfriend initially feels threatened by a guy he’d seen as potential competition for her affection. After finding out he is transgender though (therefore “less of a real man”) these feelings vanish.

Like many trans people do, Bailey experienced this invalidation firsthand with his family growing up. Though he had asserted his FTM (female to male) identity to them countless times, his parents continually pressured him to wear feminine attire during family gatherings. It felt to Bailey like they were denying his fundamental self “for the sake of superficial harmony.”

It was a long road to opening his family member’s minds, but Bailey says they’re slowly learning and trying (“which I appreciate,” he acknowledges).

I’d like to share Bailey’s thoughts on his experience (I’ve secured his permission to and still changed some identifying details).  

While he acknowledges that he can’t speak for every trans person, “many of my trans friends have expressed similar sentiments and frustrations. There’s overlap between our experiences.”

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On people not understanding

For the people who don’t understand it, Bailey proposes this brief, straightforward thought exercise:

 If you’re a cis man, picture waking up one day in the body of a cis woman. If you’re a cis woman, picture waking up one day in the body of a cis man. Everything about your life is the same— same friends, same job, same household and coworkers— except that now everyone is treating you like the opposite gender.

You go about your day. You share a bathroom with the opposite sex.

Transgender flag

You realize that switching back to the body that represents the gender you know yourself to be will be a long, expensive road. One that will require saving up for a surgery that maybe you can’t afford. 

Some of your family members might react with intense emotions. Some of them might ask why you’re “doing this to them.”  

Your president has just passed another bill reminding you that you are not welcome in this country.

Maybe all this seems like too high a price to pay for living as your authentic self. Maybe staying inside this body that misrepresents your soul just feels like the easiest option, or the path of least resistance. But maybe in choosing it, you feel like a constant imposter. 

 Many (but not all) transgender people have woken up feeling this way since they were kids.

That the majority of us don’t have to face this as our reality is a privilege. As Cassie Brighter wrote in queer publication LOTL: “You get to live life in the gender identity that rings true to you—with a gender expression that doesn’t suffocate you. Don’t you wish the same for others?”

~~

On knowing it wasn’t a phase

“When something’s a phase it feels more like an article of clothing. Like, you know you’ll want it off eventually,” Bailey explains. “But when it’s a core part of your identity, it’s more like your skin. You know you can’t just take it off. It’s there for good.”

~~

On trans friends who want to be seen as male, not transgender

Those who identify somewhere on the spectrum of gender (often as gender-queer) frequently like to have attention called to their gender ambiguity. Transgender and gender-queer are separate identities though. Some trans people, Bailey explains to me, don’t feel any ambiguity about their gender identity. Rather, they feel strictly like one gender over the other— so “transgender” isn’t a satisfying label for them. While technically accurate, it calls too much attention to both their transition and to a past self with whom they no longer identify.

While Bailey personally doesn’t have a problem with being referred to as trans, some of his friends in the community do.

“One of my friends sees it as like…he feels strictly like a man. He wants to be referred to with a label that identifies him for who he is today, rather than one that repeatedly shifts attention back to who he used to be. So he prefers male or man over transgender.”

~~

On how tolerance is not the same as acceptance.

Acceptance doesn’t end at tolerance. The bar for some people in dominant class seems to rest at “I won’t say mean things to (insert name of group in question), and I’ll treat them cordially.”

To help people feel recognized as full humans though, more is required than merely mincing our words and biting our tongues. Actually doing internal work to overcome the prejudice is far more impactful. And internal shifts come through listening and paying attention.

The world still has a ways to go on the path towards full acceptance and embracing of trans individuals. More than anything I mentioned in this entry though, I think those two actions are what’s most important.

Listen to individual trans people— because as is the case for any group, each person within it will have their own unique preferences. Listen to what they are telling you, to what they prefer, to why certain comments are insensitive— just as you would ideally do for any human who is articulating their needs or preferences.

It’s unfortunate that we often stay away from what we don’t understand, because that distance maintains our ignorance and keeps out of reach the very exposure that may help us to overcome our prejudice. 

I’d like to close off with more words from Brighter (quoted earlier):

“The trans woman in the public restroom is not saying, ‘I’m here to invade your space!’— she’s saying, ‘please take me in, we’re at your mercy. We depend on your solidarity and kindness.”

I hope for Bailey’s* and all members of his community’s sakes, that more of us open our hearts and our minds to this message.

*Thanks for reading! That concludes this month’s Pride series. I hope you learned something or at least enjoyed the stories. As always, if you liked this post feel free to share it on social media. You can also follow us on IG @lyft_tales

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Photo credits

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom — https://www.yelp.com/biz/six-flags-discovery-kingdom-vallejo?start=20

Trans flag — https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-03-31/california-forgot-transgender-people-covid-coronavirus-vaccine-equity-push

Trans bathroom sign — https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-bristol-47213433

Published by esteph42190

A 30-year-old queer bilingual writer born and raised in the Bay Area, I’ve been writing since before I knew how to spell. Balancing my generative energy with a desire to inform, as a child I printed and distributed to classmates publications that included The News Newsletter and Health Digest (ironic considering I also ran an illicit candy business that landed me in the principal’s office several times). As a student at UC Davis I wrote for The California Aggie, with pieces ranging from an exploration of gender roles in the movie Tangled to my own weekly psychology column. After graduating I kept a bilingual blog of my 14 months living in Montevideo, Uruguay, and upon returning continued to blog about social issues and human psychology.

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