Trans Awareness Week falls on the second week of November. True to form, I missed it, but better late then never, right? So here goes my Trans Awareness Week announcement:
Be aware. I’m trans.
This is gonna come as no news whatsoever to those who know me personally. I am not famous for my subtlety, so the people around me have known it for as long as I have – three years or so. I should have worked out it sooner, but, huh, I kind of got distracted. This is actually what happened.
Back in 2014 or thereabouts, a prominent self-defence instructor started railing against the horror of “bathroom bills” forcing people to allow trans folk to excrete their waste unmolested, and baffled the hell out of me. You see, by then I had been going potty like a grown-up for nearly four decades. In my experience, if you are in a public bathroom and other people’s genitals are causing you any sort of inconvenience, the problems is not the style of the genitals in question; one of you is just going to the bathroom wrong. Yeah, predators could pretend to be trans in order to enter the bathrooms of people they wish to victimise, but that would require them to be both very dedicated and very bad at their job. Trans people get routinely treated like shit, in and out of public bathrooms, and they’re often under constant scrutiny by all and sundry. Generally speaking, if you want to do something illegal and very much frowned upon, it pays not to paint a giant target on your back first. There is statistical evidence of bathroom assaults involving trans people… but all of those assaults were perpetrated against said trans people. Also – and I honestly don’t know how this can come as a surprise to people allegedly interested in self-defence – all manners of unsavoury things go down in public bathrooms all the time, and have done so since time immemorial. So, like, maybe instead of hand-wringing over the fact that trans children – one of the most victimised demographics in the world – may be pretending to be trans in order to victimise other children, we could actually design school bathrooms that aren’t the epicenter of violence, abuse, sexual predation, and bullying in children’s lives? Jus’ sayin’.
My other cause of puzzlement is supremely embarrassing. Basically, I didn’t understand what “trans” meant. I knew that there were men who liked to wear women’s clothing and women who liked to wear men’s clothing, and that the former suffered more for their sartorial choices. I knew that there were people who didn’t give a flaming fuck about gender rules and roles, and wore and did whatever they felt like. I knew, from a lifetime of personal experience, that living like that is not without its costs. What I didn’t know and I couldn’t understand was the identity side of things. I understood biological sex, but gender completely eluded me.
The self-defence instructor in question actually spent a fair bit of time explaining it all to me. At the end of it all, I realised something that had never, ever occurred to me: other people had a gender. They didn’t act a gender – as in, they didn’t just blindly do whatever society deemed appropriate for people with a certain type of genitalia. Girls were girls and boys were boys and people actually had a gender.
Sorry and all that, but up until then, I thought that most people were very, very silly. As far as I was concerned, the gendering of things was just one of many sets of arbitrary social rules made up and enforced to make life unnecessarily complicated. When you set the table, knives go on the right and forks go on the left; if you get it wrong, a grown-up will shout at you. When you go to a party, girls wear skirts and boys wear trousers; if you get it wrong, a grown-up will shout at you. I kind of assumed that people just got fed up of getting shouted at and gave up what they actually wanted for the sake of a quiet life. In all honesty, I still do. I am willing to accept that most people have a lil’ gender inside, because most of my friends say they do and they aren’t liars. But when that gender comes with a whole set of rules and conditions… Nah, sorry. Not really my scene.
But I digress.
It’s 2014. I have just realised that gender is a thing that in fact exists, and people are s’posed to have one. I am very surprised and also kind of confused, because I don’t work like that. So I go to my then-partner, and I tell him that I don’t identify as a woman. I don’t identify as anything. I don’t identify. And he turns around and laughs and tells me that of course I don’t! My womanness is such a deep and pervasive part of my identity that I can’t even see it, that’s how much of a woman I am! Duh and double duh!
I kinda shrug and go with it.
It took me another three years to realise that no, I’m actually agender. They weren’t three wasted years. I consumed a load of trans media to Educate Myself. I wrote a book with an agender narrator, and spent a considerable amount of time coming up with a valid reason as to how she might have ended up like that. I did plenty of other stuff, too, but I sure did a lot of trans-related stuff. And all the way through it, I honestly thought that I was just trying to figure Them out – Them, those mysterious trans people, so inscrutable and complicated and
Yes, I really am that dense.
I can’t actually remember how it finally sunk in. It did, though, so I told my closest friends. The general response was “Huuuuuh, yeah? So, you watched the new Star Wars yet?” It turns out that when you live outside of gender for a number of decades, you end up being close to people who don’t actually care about what gender you are or aren’t. So my friends asked me about how I felt about it (very excited, somewhat apprehensive), about what pronouns I wanted (at the time, I wasn’t sure), and that was pretty much it. They didn’t see me any differently because they had never seen me through a gendered lens, because that’s not how they roll. So yeah, that was pretty cool.
As I settled in my self-discovery, I tweaked my life a bit. I got a new legal name, one that didn’t actually make me want to vomit. I tried various pronouns to see how they felt. I reviewed past relationships, romantic and not, and recontextualised their struggles in light of my lack of gender and gender awareness. I faced the fact that I’m dysphoric as all hell, which really vexed me: how can I have gender dysphoria when I don’t even have a gender? Like, seriously, it makes no sense! For a while, I hesitated to identify as trans, because I misunderstood what transness mean: I saw it as going from one thing to another, and I had not in fact moved. I still sometimes hesitate to call myself trans because I don’t feel that I work hard enough to earn that. All I do is whatever feels right for me, and while that’s not cost-free, I will never pay as much for my self-actualisation as the average trans woman. In a way, it helps that I don’t “pass” and probably never will: people who don’t actually know me see me as a tiny, titsy woman with an inappropriate taste in clothes and hobbies. That’s not how I want to be seen, but there is nothing I can do to fix that, it keeps me relatively safe, and it doesn’t cause me major psychic damage. I don’t care enough about how strangers see me for it to hurt.
So why the fuck am I writing a whole public document about my transness? Two main reasons, really. First and foremost, representation. I rejoice every time a trans person comes out, because yay, good for them! I rejoice mightily if said person is cool, because yay, one of us! Like seriously, Elliot Page came out as trans three days ago, and I’ve not stopped squeeing yet. I am not cool by any stretch of the imagination, but there may be a stray trans person out there who might find some comfort in knowing that I’m here and I’m me and I like it. I like it a lot.
There’s also the issue of truth in advertising. I am a person who wrote a book titled, “A Woman’s Toolkit.” I have written ad nauseam about violence, abuse, and recovery from a woman’s perspective. At the time, I was telling what I believed to be the truth. I still believe it to be truth from a practical point of view: when it comes to that kind of interpersonal issues, my identity is fairly immaterial. I am seen as a woman, hence I am treated as a woman and expected to react as a woman. When I disappoint people’s expectations, I am punished as a woman. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be people rushing to discredit my work because I didn’t have the right to write it.
…and it literally just occurred to me that some people will discredit my work because my transness means that I’m delusional, attention-seeking, or both. Honestly, I only just thought of that. I spend so much time with people who aren’t raging transphobic douchebags that I literally forgot that such people exist. Yes, life can be that good.
Anyhoo, this is about all I’ve gotta say. I’m agender and I’ve always been, but it took me a long time to figure it out. It took me a while to come out with it, too, because I kinda like my private life to be private. I am not going to change my name on my old books, because that’s a royal pain in the ass. Some people may have a different perception of the value and relevance of my work, but I can’t help that. They probably wouldn’t have liked what I’ve got to say, anyway. I am still on an indefinite hiatus, because writing about self-defence was really not good for me. So, huh, goodbye and stuff.