“Consider the Ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?” –Luke 12:24
PART I: DISCOVERING MYSELF
In the Gospel of John, the very first line declares, “In the Beginning was the Word…,” In a similarly way, my story begins when I learned the language that would describe who I am.
I first learned the word “Transgender” and “Transsexual” from Oprah. She had a segment on three transgender kids. I remember a boy, about 14, talking about his experience.
“How do you know you aren’t a lesbian, if you are attracted to girls?” Oprah asked him.
“Lesbians feel comfortable with their bodies.” He said. I was fascinated.
I remember a Dr. Phil episode where a child screamed at their parents, “I want to be a girl!” I felt so bad for the child. The episode haunted me.
There was a garage sale, and we wheeled our ancient basement television with the UHF/VHF knobs outside. Dr. Phil was playing, speaking to a wife concerned about her husband’s cross dressing. I was scared, because I had been starting to cross-dress myself. Was what I was doing wrong?
In 2004, Shrek 2 came out and was the talk of my 8th grade class. “There was this gross scene with Pinocchio in a thong.” One of my classmates mentioned to another. At this point, I had worn women’s underwear to school before. What if somebody found out? Was what I was doing wrong?
I was 14, home alone, wearing nothing but a black throng, and watching Raiders of the Lost Ark. I wished my penis would go away so this thong would fit me. What I was doing wasn’t normal in the sense that it was not common, but it felt good. And I tried very hard not to think too hard about why I did it; I just did. I prayed for forgiveness. I read the passages of the Bible that said a man should not wear a woman’s clothes. I suppressed and rejected myself.
One day, I lost a sheet of paper I needed for school. I had remembered folding it up and placing it in my pocket a few days prior, thus I suspected the paper was still in a pair of pants I threw into the laundry. At this point, my mother did all of the laundry in the house, and I was uncertain if she checked pockets before throwing clothes into the wash. While searching, my hand brushed against something unusual in a pant’s pocket: I pulled out a thong, which my mother would have discovered had I not looked earlier that day. I prayed thanks to God.
I was born in 1990. I was the absolute last generation to remember the world before the internet. People often say, “I was born in the wrong generation,” and pine about some past golden age. In a lot of ways, I feel like I was born too early. There must be a future generation where transgender people will be far more welcome. I was born right at the changing of an age. End of the cold war, grew up with the rise of the internet, fifth grade when 9/11 happened, and turned 18 during the 2008 collapse, and voted in the 2008 presidential election.
On school days I woke up early to go on the internet. Usually I played flash games, but sometimes I read stories. These were anonymous stories about husbands that got punished by their wives and had to wear panties, or boys who were disobedient and were forced to be dressed and treated like girls. I read stories written by the Age Play or ABDL community, and I imagined myself as a little girl, never a little boy, being loved and taken care of and told I was cute. I felt dirty, but I couldn’t help myself. These stories reminded me of something my babysitter said to me years before, something about how I needed to say I was sorry, or she was going to put me in a dress and make me say “I’m a pretty little girl!” Even in that moment, I must have been about 8 or so, I found that idea appealing. Wasn’t there a time when my mother put my hair in a braid, just to be silly, but I kind of liked it but sort of knew I wasn’t supposed to? My memories get hazy when I reflect on my early childhood, although I do recall writing to Highlights Magazine at age nine, asking for advice how to meet more girls to be friends with. I cannot imagine that is a matter to which most pre-pubescent boys sought counsel.
If you are a transgender woman, does that mean you had to play with dolls when you were a kid? Because I didn’t. I thought dolls were stupid when I was young. But people also told me that dolls were stupid. And there was a kid in my class that always made jokes about wanting to get a Barbie Doll for Christmas, and I could tell that the teachers didn’t appreciate that sort of talk. I also grew up with brothers, so there weren’t any dolls for me to play with in the first place. I did have a stuffed wolf I carried with me, Tundra. And I played with Playmobiles, aren’t those pretty gender-neutral? I also liked reading and using my imagination, and didn’t care that much for sports. I still am not a huge fan.
And while I didn’t play with dolls, but when I was 9, I fell in love with the anime Sailor Moon, a 90s Japanese animated television series about a group of teenage girls who transform into superheroes and protect Tokyo from a variety of threats. I knew this was a girl show. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be watching this. I knew if anybody at school found out, I would be a laughing stock. This was my secret. By the time I was in 5th grade, I was waking up at 5AM on Sunday mornings to watch and video tape the two episodes that my local UPN station ran in syndication. In immersing myself with the show’s online fanbase, I found out that the original Japanese version of the show had several gay characters and some transgender themes in the fifth and final season, which was never dubbed into English. This was one of the first times I heard about LGBT people in a neutral or supportive context.
The American-dubbed Sailor Moon was a very campy series, but I enjoyed the female-centric cast and storylines. It felt like being voyeur, getting to listen in and watching a group of teenage girls be comfortable around each other. In the show’s main storyline, the title character, Sailor Moon, was a princess of The Moon Kingdom. I sat at my table in my fifth grade classroom and thought about if I were the moon princess. Would I like it? Would I be beautiful?
Could that be like playing with dolls?
6th grade was still elementary school for me. I remember being an insufferable know-it-all. I often look back to these times in my life with a great deal of shame and dysphoria. The bad voice in my head will say, “if you were really a girl, you would have been more pleasant, more welcoming, more conversational, less conservative, less aggressively “masculine” This is not rational. I was bored and isolated, and I spent most of my time thinking of ideas for video games and movies. I didn’t even play that many video games, I just liked the idea of thinking about immersive worlds, and the possible stories. I check out a book from the library about puberty, and read it a few weeks before our Human Growth and Development class. I was dumbfounded. I had no real concept of vaginas or menstruation or how sex worked. I had just sort of assumed that all births were like a caesarian section, but I never really put much thought into it. I had no idea what to think, but I knew I was scared of puberty. I was especially concerned about my voice changing, about having to shave, about smelling bad, and having to go on dates and have sex with girls. On top of this stress, I had to get glasses. Upset, one spring day, I stepped out of the shower and wrote my frustrations on the fogged-up mirror: “Glasses and Puberty? What do I have to go through?!” I took effort to wipe this message off with a towel, making sure my parents wouldn’t accidentally find out.
By 6th grade, urinals scared me. I started sitting down to urinate. While I wouldn’t always hold to that practice, every time I did it, I felt so much more elegant. Like I wasn’t a dirty boy, spraying their piss with abandon.
7th grade was difficult. I didn’t know who I was. I still was an insufferable know-it-all, but now everybody made sexual jokes all the time. Girls passed me notes, saying about how much they want to have sex with me. Boys were “pantsing” me and swatting at my curly mop of hair which I never wanted to cut.
“Dominic can’t keep his hands off me!” I told my gym teacher after a peer of mine kept making me feel uncomfortable in the locker room.
“Must be that aftershave you’ve been using!” My teacher replied.
I remember PJ. He was in another gym class, but we changed in the same locker room. He wore briefs when the rest of the class wore boxers. He was cute, soft, androgynous, and with an overwhelming innocence. I thought about him, but at my middle school, it was absolute social suicide to be gay. People asked me if I was gay. People told me I was gay. During one gym class with my friend Nathan, I remember teaching him how to use the leg extender. I touched his legs and guided him through the rep, and casually looked down at his crotch. A girl caught me and told me I was gay. It was true, I was staring at his crotch, but I wasn’t gay, was I? What does it feel like to be gay?
The problem with the language of “Did you feel like a boy?” or “Did you feel like a girl?” is that, even as late as middle school, I didn’t have a strong sense of what gender or sex actually meant. I grew up around men, watched cartoons through a male gaze, was segregated from women, and did not understand women’s bodies. I knew from an early age that something about this “man’s world” was not right for me, but what exactly were my other options? Even from a very young age, I understood the tremendous taboo around any “boy” who deviated from their prescribed gender. And an awkward kid like me, who did not always pick up on social mores right away, knew that I had to keep this a secret.
Nobody could think I was gay. I saw a Far Side cartoon where a man was sitting with his legs crossed knee-over-knee. Only women sat like that, I thought. Men are supposed to sit with one ankle over their thigh, radiating their crotch out. Sitting cross-legged is gay. But I wanted to do it so badly, I waited until I was home alone and practiced crossing my legs.
I took choir, and made it a point to be a tenor. The basses were so low, and so crude. The tenors were the real musicians, with a pure voice that could function as the melody line. I wanted to have the highest voice in my section, and I spent hours practicing, developing a falsetto singing voice long before instruction.
The choir direct was also the theatre director. She did like me all that much. My 8th grade diary reports an incident in which she called me “cruel hearted,” quite a damning read of character for a middle-aged teacher to issue a 14-year-old kid. She did accept me into the spring musical, which was a selection of scenes from The Sound of Music and Annie. David and James were the stars of musical: my choir director treated them like crowned princes, and not for undo reason: they were both composed, comfortable, funny, and wonderful young men, with robust, post-voice change pipes. After I saw David in his Von Trapp sailor uniform, I went home and wrote in my diary, “I’m sure everybody has at least one homosexual experience, I was feeling that way about David.” I wasn’t gay, was I?
I found a pair of bicycle shorts that spring, and I wore them as underwear once. I loved how they compressed my penis and testicles, so I wouldn’t get an erection. I felt my front, and I loved how smooth it felt. Looking in the mirror, I loved how my buttocks looked round and perky. The bicycle shorts weren’t the first things I found from that box: before that, I discovered a trove of leotards and one-piece swimsuits. This wasn’t the first time I remember wearing a leotard and nothing else, I remember being very young, about 6, and playing in a leotard with my brother. My mother saw us and laughed, but she wouldn’t say why it was funny to her.
I went over to a friend’s house, wearing a leotard and shorts underneath my clothes. When the time felt right, I stripped off my external clothes to reveal my “Alter Ego” to my friend. I was 12.
The one-piece bathing suits were tight, but I managed to fit a few of them on. While I recall showing in one, I am disappointed to have forgotten how I managed to hide the soaked suit afterward.
I went over to another friend’s house when I was 13. His sister was only about two years younger than me. When nobody accounted for me, I snuck into her bedroom and took a few pairs of panties to try on in the bathroom. After I was done, I stuck them under the sink cabinet, and hoped nobody would ever find out.
The first time I dressed as a woman in public came the next year. My 8th grade english teacher divided the class into three-person sections, and required us to read a different book. My group choice the YA novel Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli. In the novel, eccentric girl previously homeschool enters a generic high school, and transforms the lives of her peers with her generosity and free spirited approach to life. In addition to seeing myself as a free spirit, I also played the ukulele like the title character, and volunteered to be Stargirl in our group’s presentation. My classmate lent me a black skirt, and I found the tightest shirt I could find. I was ecstatic. I called one of my friends and told him, “On friday, I’m going to be cross-dressing for school!” My friend had no idea what to make of this. My live performance of Stargirl, which included me playing a rendition of “Happy Birthday!” on my ukulele, was met with both laughter and applause from my class. My teacher wrote in the evaluation, “Nice Stargirl Voice!” I may have played it like a joke, but that meant something to me. It was no burlesque.
During our post-8th Grade Washington D.C. Trip, I shared a hotel room with my friend and other kid who hadn’t found a roommate. Lying in bed one night, I asked the other two what they would be like if they were girls. While I don’t remember their responses, I do recall telling them I would definitely want to wear short skirts if I were a girl.
Could I wear skirts? Numberous times I searched threads on yahoo about cross-dressing, asking if it was OK for men to wear skirts or panties. Some commented that it was ok and hot, but other said it was ugly, and men were just not supposed to wear skirts. This reminded me of an Aesop’s fable about the donkey who wanted to be a lapdog. He jumped in the lap of his sitting master, knocking him over. The moral of the story is, know your pre-ordained place in the world, and do not deviate from it. I felt ashamed. Why couldn’t my pre-ordained place have been to be a girl? I knew that girls had it rough, getting pregnant and having periods and all, but could I just have a look into that life?
Having learned about vaginas and uteruses so late, I found myself fascinated with menstruation. Every time I went to somebody’s house, I always check their bathroom for pads and tampons, just to look at them. At age 13, on a flight from Chicago to Milwaukee, I got permission to go to the restroom, just so I could take one of the pads for later. I snuck through my parents’ closet one afternoon, and found a brown paper bag sitting on top of a set of boxes. Reaching for the bag, I managed to spill its contains, knocking my mother’s tampons and pads all over the bedroom floor. In a panicked frenzy, I managed to clean it up before she could hear.
I would never have a period. And although I was somewhat relieved to know I would never accidentally bleed through my clothes, I felt strangely like I was missing something. During college, I would check out a documentary from the library on cultural views around menstruation called “Blood Moon,” and I watched with a wistful heart. Around this time, I worked as an assistant on a small campus library. During the hours of each shift I spent pursuing the internet, I read an article about a viral marketing video series for a tampon product which told the story of a boy who woke up one day with a functioning vagina. I spent a considerable amount of time trying to find access to this series, and only after exhausting most of my options did I find a company website that let me watch the videos after I verified my age and sat through several ads. Could I wake up one day with a vagina? What might it be like to live with a bodily rhythm like that?
I will never have a period. I will never share in the “rite of womanhood.” I will never be able to bring to term a child. This is a life I can never have. Despite how strange it sounds, I still sometimes pray to God to let me wake up and be a cis-woman. That all of this has been a long, detailed dream, and I can return to being the beautiful woman I feel on the inside. Perhaps if I pray hard enough, God will pity me and perform a miracle.
By high school, I would sometimes ask girls about their experiences with puberty. On the bus one day, a girl told me about how to put tampons in, and to make light of my odd questioning, she got on her hands and knees, sticking her posterior in my direction, saying, “Does this fulfill your sexual fantasies?”
Recently, when I came out to a friend of mine from high school I had not seen for a while, he mentioned to me how he remembered a basement birthday party from ten years ago, where I asked his then-girlfriend, now wife, lots of detailed questions about going through puberty.
By the time high school started, I made friends with a rather conservative evangelical friend, and began attending the youth group of a colossal evangelical church. Suddenly, I found myself adapting very conservative, very views on just about everything. Looking back, I think it was a way for me to make sense of all the ambiguity of the world, and a method to sequester my feelings about my body and my interests. If you were a young Evangelical, you were so happy because your life had a purpose, and a foundation at such a young age, all while most adults were floundering in the amorality and misery of the secular world.
I openly hated gay people. I told people that the Bible clearly said that men were supposed to have short hair, and women long hair. I tore down LGBT posters. I handed out pamphlets. I was absolutely terrible, and still visiting fetish story websites late at night and early in the morning. The desire never stopped, I just blocked it with an abundance of shame.
As high school progressed, I found myself wearing stranger and stranger things as clothes. For over a year, I wore a suit and tie almost every day. After my grandfather’s passing, I began wearing his neon colored polyester pants. I wore exaggerated houndstooth jackets and suspenders, bow-ties, pink argyle sweaters, and even a monk’s robes at one point. For gym class, I intentionally wore incredibly short track shorts. Once a semester, I would have an “Emo Day” (this was 2005-2009, the height of the “MySpace” era), where I would wear skinny jeans, a tight black shirt, eyeliner, mascara, black nail polish, and other features of a scene kid. The skinny jeans were always my mother’s. A girl in my choir once lent me a pair of neon yellow skinny jeans.
“Woah, those are some tight jeans!” a guy in my choir said during a slow moment.
“Yes,” I responded, “Can you tell if I’m circumcised?”
Other transpeople have told me about doing similar things, treating the clothes of the gender they were assigned at birth as a costume they freely played with. That’s how I definitely felt, and moreover, that is how I acted.
I did not date anybody in high school. I did not masturbate in high school. Or middle school for that matter. My few attempts at masturbation proved futile, even after reading masturbation instructions from JackinWorld.com. During my freshman year, my classmates held a running joke that a young, shy girl had a crush on me. While this sort of thing made me feel uncomfortable, I also wanted to prove to myself that I was not gay, so I laid on my bedroom floor one night and masturbated to the thought of this girl, all while listening to Mendelssohn. After 20 minutes, my penis was chaffed, and I was not enjoying myself.
Later, I would read the evangelical non-fiction “classic,” I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a best-seller written by a then-21-year-old pastor-in-training who advocated for getting rid of dating in favor of “courtship.” Courting could only take place if one was in a stage of life ready to get married, could see themselves possibly marrying the person they want to court, and both sets of parents consented. Suddenly, I had a Biblical excuse to not date anymore. It wasn’t because I was too scared, it wasn’t because I was secretly gay, it wasn’t because something was wrong with me and I just wasn’t interested or comfortable dating anybody, it was because God Himself doesn’t even want me to date. And since I found no pleasure in masturbation, I thought I was doing pretty well for myself. My conservative evangelicalism melted away by the end of my junior year of high school, and I ended up writing a defense of gay marriage for my school’s newspaper, as a way to atone for my previous vocal and abusive anti-queer attitudes. Still, the promise of “Kissing Dating Goodbye” stuck with me.
By my senior year, I fell in love with the theatre department. In only my second show, I was cast as the lead of a one-act play entitled, “The Actor’s Nightmare,” a self-referential satire of the theatre, where I play a character who stumbles onto a stage, unaware they are the lead for a play about to begin. The production included eight other girls, or, “There are eight women and one me!” I would tell people. I very much enjoyed being part of an exclusively-femme space, and being treated like I belonged there. My costume comprised of a black leotard, women’s tights, ballet flats, and a faux-fir robe. The first time I put the leotard and tights on, I stared at myself in the mirror, marveling at my compressed, streamlined body. I felt beautiful. Not handsome, but pretty. And then I got to wear makeup.
The eyeliner, the mascara, the foundation, the blush, it looked gaudy, but I loved it, and I wanted to learn. Despite having a shaky hand, I tried my absolute hardest to do my own eyeliner before each show. As a wrap party present from the show, the rest of the girls in the cast gave me a tube of liquid eyeliner, with a note saying this was for practice. I kept that tube for many years, along with my black leotard and tights. A few months later, for my performance at my high school’s Battle of the Bands, I opened by performance by playing a vinyl record of “Edge of Seventeen,” stripping off a button-down shirt and slacks to reveal my black leotard and a pair of fishnet stockings. Without realizing it, I performed the first burlesque in my high school’s history. The leotard made another appearance in Halloween of 2011, where I re-appropriated it into a “Natalie Portman’s Black Swan” costume. That costume made me feel the same way my senior year theatre costume did: whole.
The theatrical life look many forms: while I never starred in a musical, I found myself recording a great deal of music and placing it on my Youtube channel. Of particular interest to me were “male” covers of songs originally by women. I relished this concept of the gender reversal, among other things, by making elaborate covers of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me,” which I used in three unsuccessful auditions for a capella groups on my college’s campus, and a soft, piano rendition of Pink’s “U+Ur Hand,” and an original song entitled “Freshman,” with a music video featuring me wearing lime-green pants and nail polish. The youtube video for my cover of “You Belong With Me” predominately includes a before/after photo of a transwoman as the thumbnail.
By my junior year, I very seriously took up cycling. Suddenly, I had an excuse to shave my legs. After all, a dedicated cyclist knows that leg hair both produces drag and poses a risk for infection, if you ever fall off your bicycle. After purchasing a pack of razors and blocking out a morning, I went into the bathroom and spent a half-hour with my leg alongside the bath tub, trying to shave against the grain. By the time I finished, my skin looked two shades lighter. The skin was soft to the touch; I quivered when I ran my fingers up and down. Yes, this was “For cycling,” but I kept it up during the winter, and I enjoyed the sight of my smooth, porcelain legs.
By senior year, I had started shaving my chest, as I found the hair unsightly. And I have been shaving my face daily since before I could even grow facial hair. The hair was gross, it made me feel unclean, and during the entire span I was capable of growing facial hair, there had been a total of 12 weeks I ever tried. I hated how it looked, I hated how it felt: in the Lent before I started coming out, I had the idea to not shave for all of Lent. After one day of this, I was horrified by how much I hated having hair on my face, and I mentioned to one of my friends, “I would rather give up alcohol than shaving.” That evaluation still holds true.
At the same time, I resisted cutting my head-hair. Since I was a pre-pubescent, I wanted long hair, but I could see the disgust and disappointment in the eyes of all the adults around me as my hair grew long, and the sense of relief every time I cut it short. During high school, I told myself that my short hair made me look “more professional,” fitting into my public identity as an evangelical “Alex P. Keaton” right-winger who wore suits to school, but I disliked how square and squat my face looked. Over the years, I experimented with different lengths, never quite making it past the awkward phase of hair growth, to my disappointment. In my second year of college, I managed to grow my hair to such a length that I began using bobby pins to keep my bangs out of my eyes. That Christmas, a family member responded, half-jokingly, half in uneasiness, “You’re using bobby pins? You know those are for women, right?” I cut my hair shortly thereafter. Shame, because I liked my locks.
At the end of senior year, I stopped eating red meat. It was unhealthy, I told people, but there was a motivation under the surface that was difficult to speak about: I associated meat with masculinity. Burgers and hotdogs were the sort of thing burly men ate, women or “people like me” just didn’t eat that sort of thing, right? I remember being at a graduation party, looking at a spread of party food, and thinking to myself how I did not want to be seen with a hamburger. Eat clean, eat concise, eat green, eat the way girls do. During my first month of college, I woke up one morning with the overwhelming urge to never eat meat again. I posted about it on facebook, and with the exception of a few occasions in the first six months when I ate fish, I never ate meat again. There were other reasons, the environment, the exploitation of animals, but loved how “clean” my food was now. A year-and-a-half later, I would go fully vegan, and remain that way now.
A force was bubbling in me. Could I be one of those “transgender” people? Is that the same thing as cross-dresser? And being a man who did womanly things? Could I ‘Become’ a woman? How does that even work? Transgender, I liked the sound of it. Right before my high school graduation, I told a friend over Facebook messenger I believe I am transgender. She didn’t believe me at first. I told her I meant it. She said she was proud I could come to her.
During that same first month of college, I met with my college chaplain and told him that I thought that I might be transgender. He asked me, “What’s important is, what do you think about that?” I told him that I didn’t think it was bad. This was 2009, only a few states even had legalized gay marriage, transgender voices in the media were few and far between, and I did not know any transgender people. I only had a loose sense of what being trans meant, but from what I saw, I wanted to know more.
I started to wear makeup around the dorms, but soon began to feel self-conscious, and scared. Was I crazy? What could these feelings all mean? This all must have been a fever dream, I told myself, and I put my makeup away for two years.
As I began my sixth, and final, semester as a college student, I began to feel odd at how I was 21, about to graduate, and never had sex, or so much as masturbated.
Was I even interested in women? I sometimes watched porn, but I did just that: I watched it. Sometimes I looked at the folder on my laptop of beautiful, chiseled men. Whenever I wanted to really feel something inside, I returned to the internet stories of my youth, I occasionally watched a “Male-to-Female Transformation” video on youtube, or I visited crossdressing forums on the internet. I wished I could be as pretty as the people I saw online.
These pictures were not out of lust; they were a charm. Maybe one day I could be as beautiful, as present, as actualized as them.
I got my hands on a Playgirl calendar, and decided to put it up in a friend’s room as a joke. Her roommate and I opened the plastic packaging and inspected each of the erection-clad photos. I liked being able to do that with her. She was also someone I asked about her experiences with puberty, and especially about bra sizes. I never found out how the joke was received.
Both of these friends lived in a rented basement apartment. For a long stretch of my college education, this apartment was my main site for parties and socialization. Looking back at my old facebook photos, there were several pictures of me fondling other men. Allegedly, some of my male friends felt uncomfortable with how I sometimes talked about their bodies, describing the quality of their abs and fit-V on their hips.
I told my friends that I thought I might be gay. It wasn’t a coming out, just a conversation topic. One of classmates, a pansexual woman in a relationship herself with a man, invited me to her 22nd birthday at Madison’s premier strip club (My birthdays were never this exciting, however, I did choose to wear a tiara for my 23rd birthday crawl). In preparing for the evening, I made an impromptu decision to wear makeup: eyeliner, mascara, and lipstick. I put the mascara on wrong. Inside of the club, I felt overwhelmed and yet confused at just how little I felt for the performers. One of the guys in the party threw down a five for me; the performer trust my face into her cleavage, and hit me with the sides of her breasts. Was their something wrong with me, if I didn’t find this attractive or desirable in the least?
There was a woman I met toward the end of my college experience who intrigued me. Her name sounded similar to mine, and we had the same advisor for our respective senior thesises. I thought to myself how much she looked like me; this is what I would be like, if I were born a woman! This theme of “Gender Mirroring” had already come up in my musical performances on my Youtube channel, would this now become a feature of my life?
Could I find a female version of myself? Could I become a female? I remember the comic strip Foxtrot from my youth. In one story arc, 10-year-old boy genius Jason Fox has been turned into a girl overnight in a riff on Kafka’s The Metamorphesis. While Jason was distressed at this occurrence, my 11-year-old self imagined being in a similar situation, magically turning into a girl overnight. I read the Japanese manga Ranma ½, whose main protagonist became a girl when splashed with hot water, and reverts to being a boy with cold water. What if I had that choice, so I could know what it was like to be a girl? After all, I yahoo searched that exact inquiry on plenty of occasions.
I knew I could not magically become a girl, but I could read and write stories written with female protagonists. The thought stuck with me, and by college, I kept a running tally on my phone of male authors who convincingly wrote from a female character perspective. This became my challenge for the two creative writing workshops I took: I would only write from the perspective of female characters. The first story I turned in involved a woman as a political prisoner, and overall was a reflection on forgiveness. The second story involved a retelling of the mysterious death of controversial Episcopal bishop James Pike, however, I made the decision to cast the story as about a female bishop named Jamie Pike. The change of gender just felt right, and I could identify better with the character. Later, I would watch the film adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, where the male Orlando is transformed into a female Orlando, all while still being played by Tilda Swinton. I told my friends on several occasions, if they ever made a movie about my life, I hope I am played by a woman, especially Tilda Swinton.
In the film, there is a sequence where Orlando rises from bed, walks to a mirror while nude, and gazes at their new, curvy figure. They looked so beautiful, so right. Why was it that I couldn’t stand my body? As young as 10, I felt like I was fat, my head was too square, I looked bloated, and my torso especially was an unshapely barrel. I pulled my swim trunks up enough to cover half of my stomach. “I don’t like exposing my navel” I would tell people as a pre-pubescent (I would later often wear a surf shirt). I didn’t like my freckles or how easily my skin would burn; I wanted to have flawless, porcelain skin. Almost every day since I was 11, I wore sunscreen outside. Even during the winter, and on cloudy days: I did not want to have wrinkles or sun damage. By my senior year of high school, I stopped making extreme facial expressions, like crinkling my forehead or knitting my brow. If you did that too much, you would get that deep line between your eyes, and that would look super-gross. I stopped sleeping on my stomach and switched to my back, so I wouldn’t compress my face at night. Every night I moisturized, especially under my eyes: my skin would be soft and beautiful, unlike a lot of the other boys in my classes with premature wrinkling and sun damage.
I could protect my skin, but what about my torso? What could I do about that mess? This was not a matter of being overweight: I was at most 175 pounds for six feet tall. Still, I envied the slim, girly torsos of some of my friends, or of the twinks and underwear models I had on my computer, especially the transgender model Andreja Pejic, who had not transitioned by this time and was living as an androgynous male model who started in a bra ad and wore a thong for a Japanese car commercial. I envied how she was treated like a woman.
What if I started calorie restricting? Could that produce a change? During the summer after my freshman year of college, I decided to take that chance. In two months, I managed to drop from 175 to 153 pounds; I loved how I looked. My torso morphed into a sleek and model-esque form, my cheekbones took a more definitive shape. I took pictures in the mirror, I embraced myself on my bed. This wasn’t healthy, but in that movement, I saw a beautiful person in my blockier, masculine body.
Of course, I felt sick all the time, and soon returned to more sensible eating patterns. By my senior year of college, I took to exercising regularly instead of calorie restricting. What happened that summer was a weird episode, and I tried not to think about it. Clearly, that was an episode of disordered eating, and the fact I visited pro-ana websites and watched Thinspo videos makes this even more troubling.
The first person I dated had lost a great deal of weight before I met her. I believe she had struggled with an eating disorder at one point, and held that as one of her personal causes. Her name was Meredith, and she messaged me first on OKCupid. I was living in upstate New York, working after college, and I was interested in dating for the first time. After all, my 22nd birthday was coming up, and I had never dated anybody, or did anything more than kiss a few girls, and one boy. Could this be a sign that there was something wrong with me? Like, I had serious social impediments if I wasn’t able to form romantic relationships?
During the season I dated Meredith, I tried my hardest to listen to everything she said. I asked her lots of questions and follow-up questions. That’s what a boyfriend did, right? I asked my friends for as much advice as possible, including a peer-review for a poem I wrote for her birthday.
She lived a kind of life I sort of wanted for myself: she had friends, she was an avid reader, an aspiring novelist (not unlike myself), and had an impeccable fashion sense. She had a very curvy figure, a kind I associate, for good or for ill, with a platonic idea of womanhood.
I was hesitant to get physically intimate with her. But one night my two housemates were gone; one had a dinner with an old friend, the other was in a car accident. Meredith and I went back to my empty house, and after a Netflix program, we started kissing passionately. More than penetrative sex, I wanted to perform cunnilingus on her. This would be the first time I would be seeing a vagina in person. For the actual sex, I told her I wanted to be on bottom. I wanted to take the submissive roll.
Afterward, I felt a tremendous sense of relief: I was 22, and finally was no longer a virgin. Lying in bed, I told her this was my first time, and that I had not even masturbated before. She told me, “have you ever used olive oil?” I told her I had not.
The next day, I took the olive oil from the kitchen, placed towels around the floor of my room, and attempted masturbating again. I ejaculated, and leaned back in my chair in a total stupor. I didn’t even come when I had sex the night prior: this was my first waking orgasm.
Meredith broke up with me two days later. We had gone to see the film The Perks of Being A Wallflower, and she violently cried over the course of the ending of the film. That evening, she was unconsolable. The next morning, over a vegan milkshake at Stronghearts, she told me was had rushed into this, and was not interested in a relationship. Oddly, I wasn’t that bothered by this.
With all my free time, I started masturbating every day, trying to figure out what I was turned on by. Very quickly, I discovered that I had little to no interest in normal porn, of people having sex. Instead, I watched a number of videos of women undressing slowly and posing, very “Suicide Girls” level material. After some time, I found that I was not even that interested in nudes, preferring images of women in tight clothes or bathing suites. They were beautiful, and I imagined what it would be like to be that beautiful, to make men aroused. My own body wasn’t even ugly, it just felt invisible.
I would stockpile photos on my computer for masturbating. Almost none of these were nudes. I had photos of a woman with crossed-legs with a coffee, a woman dressed as Little Red Riding-Hood by a wolf, lots of vacation beach pictures no more sensual than what many women would post on facebook, and a few public pictures of different actresses, most of whom had a very “Audrey Hepburnish” classical style to them. Sitting down, I told myself I was going to masturbate to a nude photo, and I was going to enjoy it. After 20 minutes of trying my hardest to think of a standard straight male fantasy, I would angrily give up, and imagine a situation where I saw myself as the woman, or would be relinquishing power in a gentle BDSM setting and I would abruptly come. My penis felt like an instrument I hastily attached to my body, and my orgasms felt like a mechanical occurance. Seldom did I feel the warmth or rapture of how I many of my friends described orgasms. My daily (and often bi-daily) 40 minute masturbation sessions left me frustrated and drained, but my hormonal sex drive, as disorganized and confusing and insatiable, saddened me. My still-erect penis afterward, throbbing and rubbed red from the mechanical session, disgusted me. I was disgusted at myself.
Two years later in St. Louis, where I worked on a second term of a Service Corps, I began seeing a young woman named Hope. This could be a new start, I thought. Hope was similar to Meredith in that both of them had a very “Art School” aesthetic and a curvy, “womanly” body. I was fascinated by her, and we very quickly became physically intimate. At first, Hope could only make me come if I laid on my back, spread my legs, and let her masturbate me. I soon conditioned myself to come if I focused especially hard in the missionary position. I would think about her body, and tell her she had a perfect womanly figure. I told her that articles of clothing aroused me, especially thongs, but much more than that, it was how I wished I could be as beautiful and free as her.
Several times during our lovemaking, I would ask her, “What does this feel like for you? What does it feel like for a girl to have sex?” She told me it was like feeling complete, the best possible feeling. What little I felt with my penis meant very little compared to how enraptured, how whole Hope appeared. I was so jealous of how she looked, of how she got to dress, of her childhood, and of how woman got to have sex. I wanted to be her.
I broke up with Hope. I couldn’t explain to her why I did that. She was shocked. The look on her face when I told her haunted me. For months, I cried, heaved tears whenever I thought of Hope, and how I had hurt her. More than once, I knelt in the shower, overcome with grief. We had showered together after every act of coitus, and I enjoyed that act much more than the actual sex. She looked so effortless how she inhabited her body. Meanwhile, everything I did had to be so deliberate, so planned, it felt as if I were operating my own body by remote control miles away, reading a manuel entitled, “How to be a Boyfriend.” Was this ever going to change?
A few months later, I decided to try dating again. From both Tinder and OkCupid, I met Genevieve. A graduate student at a local university, Genevieve embraced a theatrical affect, and had just about the best wardrobe of anybody I had met, managing to look classic, professorial, and Greenwich Village at the same time. Like Meredith and Hope, Genevieve had the sort of curvy figure that seemed so distinct from my own bland mesomorphic body and bland, square Irish face. She seemed far more comfortable and confident than my prior flames. While I admired her so much, I felt so naïve around her. I tried to ask a lot of questions and avoid directly contradicting her, those were the best tools in my “boyfriend” kit.
She changed in front of me once, and I remember asking for her thoughts on women’s underwear, panties and bras. In that moment, I felt more like her girlfriend, being able to casually experience our bodies without a sexual context. The four times we had sex were very pleasant. I enjoyed myself, even though I had to concentrate very hard on mental images of women’s clothes, or on how womanly she looked, or how nice it must be to have sex from her perspective, if I wanted to come. My favorite part remained cunnilingus, especially as how it did not involve my penis. I performed cunnilingus first each time, including when Genevieve was on her period. As disgusting as it sounds, I felt so in touch with my feminine spirit when I encountered menstrual blood. After sex, we would embrace each other in a spooning position. I hated how my penis pressed against her backside. If only it went away, if only I could retract it. It was such an ugly piece of my forgettable body, anyway.
Some friends of mine started writing down some of the unusual things I would say. They quoted me as saying, “The single greatest piece of evidence for the incompleteness of evolution is the lack of retractable male genitalia.” They also quoted me as saying, “These [athletic leggings] make me feel like a sexually amorphous being!”
I told Hope how much I liked athletic leggings. She looked concerned, and asked me not to wear them in public. After we broke up, I turned to wearing leggings in almost all non-work or religious settings.
In 2013, I bought a pair of swim briefs (Lycra, not Speedo), especially because it seemed like the closest thing to a male bikini. I loved how confident and happy girls looked in bikinis, I hoped I could find something like that. My mother was horrified when I told her I owned one, and told me not to wear it, unless I was in Rio. Hope seemed disconcerted at the notion, as well. The last time I wore them was at a birthday party with a “Beach/Blizzard Babylon” theme, mixing ski and beach attire together. I loved how “European” how “Girly” it made me look, but I knew that most people did not approve at best, or thought I was some sort of deviant sexual fetishist at worst.
I tried to dress my most “presentable” around Genevieve, but after two weeks, I told her I could not keep doing this; I felt like if I were to date her any longer, or if I were to have sex with her another time, I would somehow have been deceiving her, or being dishonest to myself. I just could not be her boyfriend, even if I could not exactly say why.
She cried when I told her this. I was the first person to ever break up with her, she said. I left her apartment feeling like a terrible human being, incapable of being in a meaningful relationship. Hope cried, Genevieve cried, was this my future? To be this odd, restless, pedantic “man” who couldn’t sustain a relationship, who idly thought about being a woman, who had a sexual drive that forced him to masturbate every day, but yet didn’t seem to be exceptionally interested in actual sex?
A year before I met Hope or Genevieve, two events happened: first, I read the novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, a beautiful story about a transgender intersex man. A few months later, I met an openly transgender person for the first time. Matthew and I had a mutual friend, and he and I met at a beachside birthday party. Almost immediately, I was intrigued by Matthew, his story, what it meant for him to be transgender, and how that effects his life. We would hang out more than a few times that summer, and I often found myself asking him a number of rather personal questions. With a commendable amount of patience, Matthew took me seriously, and helped me make sense of the transgender experience. I did not tell him that I wrote in my diary at age 18 that I thought I was transgender, or how I told my chaplain. I felt like the student who knew how to ask the right questions, because they vaguely understood the lesson from a previous instructor. After I came out to him, Matthew told me that he surmised I was questioning my own gender identity, based on the sorts of questions I asked him, and the sorts of things I found myself talking about. For example, I allegedly said, “I would sleep with a man if I were ‘in the right place’ with myself,” not if I liked the man, but if I felt comfortable with myself.
The summer before I moved to St. Louis, I read the entirety of the legendary comic book series “Sandman,” famously written by Neil Gaiman. The series, a collection of stories centering Morpheus, the king of dreams, and his sister Death, covers much territory in mythology and Christian apocrypha. The only storyline that stuck with me involved a trans character named Wanda. Despite being written in 1993, the series is incredibly sympathetic to her. Over the course of the story, she is killed in a freak accident. At the end, the protagonist has a vision of Wanda in the Hereafter, but now she is the full woman she never got to be on Earth. I read this tome of a graphic novel on my parents’ kitchen table at night. The lamp above me dimmed. I usually end up reading graphic novels more for their writing than for their art, but these panels made me freeze. I teared up at how beautiful this page looked.
About a month before I began coming out, I told a gay friend, “I’m straight, but I’m not ‘Straight-straight.’” What could that possibly mean?
In June of 2015, I read an article online about the experience of growing up transgender, and not knowing until you were an adult. All of the pieces resonated with me, but one specific point the author made overwhelmed me in shock, because I felt the exact same way: I was not attracted to the women I dated, I wanted to be them. The scales fell off my eyes: I was a transgender woman.
This was the specific, watershed moment, the point in which I finally had the language and the confidence to describe how I felt, and how I wanted to live my life. I began coming out to my closest friends that Summer, including Genevieve, whom I became a far better girlfriend than boyfriend, and who has been a wonderful support for me during my transition.1
There was no audible voice, but I hear and sensed something completely unstoppable. Soon, I immediately started watching videos produced by other transwomen, talking about their journeys, how they discovered they were trans. These people were speaking directly to me. Others have done this; I could do this.
…That bird had flown.
PART II: WHAT EXACTLY AM I?
My name is Bren and I am a transgender woman. I often call myself a transsexual, which in practice means the same thing as transgender, but is no longer the broadly-preferred term. I, like the vast majority of people, was assigned a sex and a gender at birth. My assigned sex was male, and my assigned gender a boy, or male, as well. Sex is a biological category, comprised of one’s chromosomes, hormones, and primary (genitals) and secondary (breast tissue, facial hair, muscle mass etc.) sex characteristics. Gender is a bit more complicated; gender is the social attitudes, roles, practices, prescriptions, feelings, behaviors, and experiences associated with one’s sexual category. Part of what makes gender complicated is how there is a social aspect of gender, but there is also an internal, psychological gender identity that is largely immalleable. My gender identity is as a woman, but before transitioning, I was socially and legally a man. Because my identity is not that of which I was assigned, I am transgender.
The “Gottcha!” question that often comes up, where the people who propose it often feel like they are the first ones to ever think of it, is as follows: “If gender is a social construction, then how can you have an immalleable, internal gender identity? If what it means to be a man or a woman changes by which culture you are in, how can you have this innate sense that you are a man or a woman?”
This question is often posed disingenuously, because it ignores the millions of people who are already transgender, for whom their identities are real, stable things. This sort of question ignores the overwhelming medical and psychological research (The consensus of the APA, the DSM, the WHO, and the AMA) which confirms over and over that transgender people exist, and that allowing transgender people to transition is the only solution to their dysphoria. In other words, if your understanding of gender is such that it does not explain the existence and dignity of transgender people, then you must change your understanding if you wish to be congruent with empirical reality.
To directly answer this question, we ought to remind ourselves that a social construction does not mean that something is simply imagined, or doesn’t “really exist.” Other examples of social constructions include money and the legal system. Sometimes people will say things like, “Oh, money isn’t real,” but money is very real: we structure our lives around money. We kill over money. We abort perspective children over money. We enslave people over debt. Money is real, however, it being a social construction means that money doesn’t exist independently of human culture: it is a phenomenon that “emerges” from our physically real existence as homo sapiens.
Similarly, gender emerges from the beliefs, practices, expectations, associations, experiences, and desires from biological sex. Some gender traits have a biological root to them. Biological males across cultures masturbate and think about sex more than biological females. There is some evidence that this is true of physical aggression, as well. However, the majority of gender traits are not rooted in any sort of biology, but are assigned on top of biological sexes more or less arbitrary. How is it possibly biological or coded into nature that the flute is considered a girl’s instrument, field hockey a girl’s sport, and pink a girl’s color? How is it that cooking at home is a woman’s task, but the profession of chef is dominated by men? How did tech sectors get dominated by men in the 21st century, but the early history of computers was largely comprised of women? When did men getting their ears pierced go from “gay” to acceptably masculine?
Things get even more complicated when we consider how expectations and performances of masculinity and femininity vary among different ethic groups within the same society. Black men in the United States often braid their hair, whereas that is extremely uncommon among white men, even those with long hair themselves.
When transgender people talk about their gender identity, they are not saying that there is an absolute set of genders, or a definitive census of masculinity and femininity coded into the universe or imprinted on the human psyche, what they are saying is, their gender, their set of expectations, beliefs, practices, associations, experiences, and sense of self in society, aligns more with the identity of male or female in our society. The mistake to is think that there is some essential characteristic of masculinity or femininity. Gender is a shifting, dynamic spectrum of practices, attitudes, roles, and ideas. Your gender identity, however, is real, and if gender or piece of gender language works for you, by all means take it. If we had a culture with multiple genders (as one can find in cultures throughout Thailand, Indonesia, First Nations people of North America, and Polynesia), many transgender people might feel better identifying with a publicly recognized third or non-binary gender.
Thus, my psychological gender identity is innate and immalliable, but the language I use, and the public “performance” of gender I accept to live comfortably with my gender identity, is very much a culturally contingent social act.2 And as the old saying goes, gender is a spectrum. Each person’s gender identity is a little bit different, and each token of masculinity or femininity will deviate a bit from a perceived norm.
For example, I present as pretty femme, but I enjoy beer more than wine, and I’m a fan of mixed-martial arts and boxing. I know transwomen who do not affect their voice and never wear makeup or skirts. I know transmen who were dysphoric about their breasts, but ok with the idea of being pregnant. I have know transwoman who enjoyed having a girlcock. I know transmen that wear makeup and leggings. I know non-binary transwomen, who identify more with being called “zie” instead of “she.” I know transmen who tell me they identify as both a man and a woman. I know transpeople who very much want to “pass” in society, and I know transpeople who want to be visibly queer.
“Masculinity” and “Femininity” are simply aggregates of the diversity of gender experience, which supervenes on biological sex features. And while there is no “Platonic Ideal” of masculinity or femininity, I do believe the research is consistent that gender identity and some gender traits do in fact have a biological root. This does not mean there is only one way to be a man or a woman, or that non-binary and genderqueer people don’t exist, or that if you are too butch or femme you aren’t “a true transsexual;” rather, I want to insist that the experience of being transgender, the experience of identifying with and wanting to be another sex and/or gender, is something so much deeper than simply a desire to be part of a contingent social group with arbitrarily-decided traits.
My mother once said to me, “If you want to be a girl, fine, but don’t change your body. That’s a sin.” There is such a cultural taboo against body modification, but unlike tattoos or costemic surgery, transgender surgery exists to relieve dysphoria, and the success of transgender surgeries at relieving dysphoria is very well-documented.
For most trans people, and definitely myself, I experience dysphoria. Dysphoria (not to be confused with dysmorphia), is the psychological pain of having a body or a public social identity that does not match your inner gender identity. Some trans people have bodily dysphoria so strong they have great difficulty taking showers. Mine was never quite that viseral, but it was strong enough to prevent me from having meaningful romantic and sexual relationships. My dysphoria gave me a tremendous amount of anxiety and confusion about my place in the world. Fortunately, beginning my transition has helped greatly with my dysphoria.
Unlike bodily dysmorphia, where a person’s perception and sense of their own body is inaccurate and cannot be relieved by changing their body, bodily dysphoria can, and often is, resolved when a transgender person transitions. A pre-HRT transwoman doesn’t look in the mirror and see a beautiful woman looking back at them, she sees a “man’s body,” and experiences the pain and disappointment of having a man’s body when her gender identity is that of a woman. Being transgender is not a mental disorder, but gender dysphoria is a condition listed in the DSM. Gender dysphoria is not what makes somebody transgender (after all, the transperson who transitions and resolves their dysphoria doesn’t stop being trans, now do they?), but it is a very common experience among trans people.
The inverse of gender dysphoria is gender euphoria, the positive experience of being getting the body and the social acceptance of your gender identity. Many transpeople will talk about how they didn’t necessarily feel terrible about their assigned gender, but they experienced life so much richer and happier as their true gender identity, and so they transitioned. I feel it’s important for cisgender people to recognize this, especially as how narratives about transgender people either hateful or overly tragic. While my life, and the lives of many other transpeople, are overwhelming difficult and painful, the experience of getting to live authentically and deliberately gives my life meaning and purpose. As I have told my friends, I have experienced many changes as I started Hormone Replacement Therapy. Each and every one of those changes has not only made me happier, they have made me whole.
PART III: BECOMING BREN
During my college graduation party in the spring of 2012, a family friend mentioned they had been reading George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novel series, “A Game of Ice and Fire,” and suggested I might want to take the nickname of “Bren,” as inspired by the character of “Bran” in the novel. “’Bren’ is also the name of a prominent machine gun during World War II,” they added. I would later learn that Bren means “Little Raven.” I love ravens, they are after all, one of the most intelligent birds.
I liked it. It sounded crisp, distinct, welcome, but maybe a little unusual? I filed the name away. In the summer of 2014, as I prepared to move to St. Louis, I considered introducing myself as Bren. I also considered changing my voice. It was hard to pinpoint what was exactly “wrong” with my voice, but it didn’t seem to fit the way I hear myself inside of my head. Of course, this is a common complaint, virtually everybody hears their own voice and is shocked at how silly they sound, but I was a little different. Years of recording myself for music film projects familiarized myself with the sound and texture of my voice. I had moments of clear, calm composition, and then I had moments where I spoke with a frantic, garbled Northern Inland accent. I liked the moment when I sounded “put together,” where I sounded comforting, where I sounded like somebody who cared, and not like a mad professor with vowels flatter than a flyswatter.
I picked the “Transatlantic Accent,” that contrived “old-timey newsreel” speak somewhere between an American and British accent, famously spoken by figures like Katherine Hepburn, Jackie O, William F. Buckley, and Kelsey Grammar. The Transatlantic Accent, coming out of the mouth of a kid like me, sounded incredibly goofy and put-upon, and somewhat effeminate. I ultimately did not chose to enter St. Louis affecting my voice, but I knew that, if I really wanted to, I could speak differently.
“I met a boy with a cute accent,” Genevieve would tell me she told her mother after our first date. Never before had somebody described my voice as cute. I wanted to be cute, but for the most part, I felt bland, just a block of wood shuffled from one situation to another.
The first group picture of my house in St. Louis had us all outside, arms around each other. My hair is short, and I am wearing a plaid shirt. I never liked plaid or flannel designs that much, but that’s the look for men. I wanted to look like I belonged, not like that disheveled goofball of a man from college.
I looked at my college pictures before I packed for St. Louis. The baggy, horizontal stripped shirts, the grey XXL jackets from Goodwill, the bleach-stained sweaters, the baggy khaki pants with competing pleats, the ratty tennis shoes, and the hunched-over look. I packed a few black V-necks, a better-fitting pair of pants, a few cardigans, and some plaid. Stylish men dressed something like this, and I was going to be set. And I hopped on a train to St. Louis to participate in a Service Corps program. I would be living in an intentional community with six other men and women in a house in an up-and-coming neighborhood, and we would all work in different non-profit organizations throughout the city, coming together to worship and discern.
It was the late afternoon as the train approached the city. After hours going through the wide, flat stretches, the landscape warped into hills and bluffs, the vegetation sprung from the corn and wheat to trees and prairie grass. I wanted to pay attention. Could we be approaching St. Louis? There must be something special about this place. Over a thousand years ago, indigenous people built a pre-Columbian city called Cahokia. In 1763, French fur traders settled a trading post. In 1876, Anheuser-Busch produced the first nationwide beer, Budweiser. In 1904, St. Louis hosted both the World Fair, and the Olympics. In 2014, Mike Brown was killed by officer Darren Wilson, initiating a protest moment unseen in the United States since the Civil Rights movement. In 2015, I came out as a transgender woman. St. Louis is the great magnet, the great meeting place. It is the Gateway City, and I could not have imagined what I had entered.
In one of my earliest conversations with my housemates, I turned to talking about sexuality and expectations. I talked about how I wanted to meet women, and other fun expectations for the year.
“Before I came down here, I told myself, ‘You know what? You are a man! And you really need to go for it!”
I was trying to convince myself. And I was not convincing myself.3
Everything in St. Louis came back to Mike Brown. His bleeding body was left on the ground for four hours. Our pleas for justice were ignored by the police, and this was the boiling point for a city and a state imbued with systemic racism. In my Service Corps, we seek a living faith, and this was the event that could not be ignored. Our initial program director preached a sermon (which I have included as a postscript to this memoir) at the cathedral the week of our arrival in which he compared the burning of a gas station in Ferguson to the Burning Bush of Moses’ story. There would be no turning back.
This was not the first time I was introduced to leftist political theory, after all, I had graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in the humanities. But in a very real way, this was the first time I was immersed in a community that leaned into the discomfort and questions of social justice, and I found myself forced to confront my confusion and anger.
And was I angry. While I always supported the protestors, and attended more than a few protests myself (Including the Moral Monday protest where over fifty clergy, including Cornel West and “Church of Stop-Shopping” performance artist Reverend Billy, were arrested outside of the Ferguson police department), and I was teargassed by the National Guard inside Mokabe’s coffee house in a clear violation of my civil liberties, I was there to listen, I was there to learn, and I was there to process.
Like many white people, all this talk around race made me feel uncomfortable. I too often felt the villain, and I found the accusatory, or perhaps more accurate, prophetic rhetoric of the activists to be painful. Who was I? Was I just another privileged white man? Then why wasn’t my life just better? Why did I not seem to fit anywhere? I did not know it at the time, but I was discerning.
I dated Hope. I broke up with Hope, and I was confused and angry, sad, and fearful that I would never be able to love anybody. “Fuck me. Just seriously, fuck me and everything I do.” I told my roommate and confidante whenever I was struck by a powerful, inescapable memory of Hope.
Half-way through the program, we switched program directors. As much as I liked my initial director, I found him to be very emotionally compartmentalized. During a one-on-one meeting with our new director, Rhonda, she made an insight about my character I had never heard another person give: “I can tell that you are so angry. And that’s ok. If you need a space to be mad, to be pissed, I can be there for you.”
I was angry. I was so, so angry. I was angry at myself for being a terrible boyfriend that hurt people. I was angry at all the jobs I had either quit or was fired from. I was angry at my parents. I was angry that I just couldn’t move to a new city and be a different person, a good, acceptable, functional man.
No wonder I drank too much that year. On more than one occasion, I would let a social situation turn into an experimentation session for different mixed drinks, and wind up throwing them all up at the end of the night. “What did I do to deserve this?!” I would drunkenly wail to my housemate, who would respond, “What did I do to deserve this?!” It amazing how alcohol can creep in to block that deep sense of longing and pain.
In April, I had an interview for a job with a church in Cincinnati. I went to the hairstylist to get the most professional men’s haircut of my life, an “Ivy League” cut. I packed a tie and my tailored suit. They were going to see a clean-cut, crisp, professional man, and I was going to get that job. During my hotel stay in Cincinnati, I purused the streets of the Hipster neighborhood Over-the-Rhine, and eventually went inside a cocktail bar. Having seen the entire series of Mad Men, I could not help but think of emulating the composed, professional, self-assured, and strapping character of Don Draper, especially as I ordered a dry gin martini. The couple next to me introduced themselves, the lady mentioned she was studying Dutch, to which I responded, Ja? Kan je het nederlands spreken? I pulled out as much college dutch as I could remember. The gentleman had the same name as a classic rock bassist. Eventually he got drunk enough to hurl his whiskey glass at the ground, smashing it into glass shards.
The next day I interviewed for the job, feeling my body, my man’s body with visible abs, squeezed awkwardly into a boxy suit, my head framed by a boxy haircut, my feet by boxy shoes, and my neck girdled with overpriced cloth. The charade was always one misstep away from breaking. Hour-long interview challenged me with numerous intimate questions and its panel of three interviewers. I left the interview and I cried. I cried for hours, walking up and down the streets of Cincinnati. I cried as I waited for a falafel in Fountain Square. I cried alongside the riverwalk. I cried waiting for my driver to pick me up in front of the music conservatory. I cried on the airplane.
I tried so hard to be a normal man. I tried so, so hard to be this sort of person that I was tasked by the world to be, and I felt like I came off as an unprofessional weirdo who wasted their time. I was heartbroken. Ironically, they would offer me the job, but 6+ hour crying session still occurred, and I could not dismiss how much of an emotional fracturing that induced in me.
June of 2015 changed everything. That Pride month, the same month as Obergefell vs. Hodges, I started to come out. In the week-and-a-half before I told anybody, I rode my bike to a dollar store and bought some makeup and panties. Nobody had to know just yet, I wanted to practice.
“Are you wearing makeup?” One of my housemates asked me, after I failed to get all of the mascara off my eyelashes.
“No.” I responded. My voice wavered. I had to tell them. I had to, but when? How was I going to do this?
I told myself I would wait two weeks. I made it a week and a half before I came out to my program director.
I told her I needed to have a meeting with her one morning, but I was vague as to what this would be about. We gathered at a street side cafe in the downtown. We talked a bit about how we were feeling about the program, and I twirled my coffee cup in my hands. I segued the best I could: “I’d been thinking a lot about I experiences with the house, all the things that have lead me here, and all the things that have changed…” I felt like a jazz pianist, who up to this point had been riffing on a familiar chord progression, and suddenly was trying to conclude her solo, how was this going to make sense? Would she accept me?
“There is something I have been, something that’s been part of me for a long time, and that is,” the words were coming. She would be the first one. Could I actually SAY it? “I am transgender: I do not identify with gender of being a man, and I want to be a woman.” “I just have one question, do you have a name?” “yes,” I thought quickly, “Bren.” “It is so good to meet you, Bren.” I broke into tears.
“You know,” she said, “Today is my birthday.” I knew that in the back of my mind. In the group text with my other housemates we had discussed getting a cake for her. “This is the best birthday present I ever received.” It was not the first time I told somebody I am transgender. I told my chaplain as a freshman in college, I told my friends Cameron and Natty as a senior in high school4, I had told my friends Zak and Papa Nick that I was interested in men, I showed up to Rachel’s strip club 22nd birthday party with a face of makeup, but June 24th 2015 was the day I knew I would not be going back into the closet. June 24th is my rebirth-day. While I had come out to people before, that was the day I had a name. I had a vision of the person I could become, and I knew I had at least one supporter.
Laughing through the swelling emotions of relief, confusion, and anxiety, I said, “My parents are probably going to write me out of the will and disown me.”
“Is that it?” Rebecca said. No matter, she would support me.
Of course, I had to now come out to the whole house, and the whole house at the same time. Nothing would be quite as awkward as if I individually told everybody, or if this somehow came out as rumor. Rebecca and I looked at the calendar and discovered we had to tell everybody that monday after our community dinner. She send a Facebook message to the house that sunday, tersely announcing there is to be a mandatory meeting that night, with no possible exceptions. Of course the member of the house were puzzled by this.
“Do you know what this meeting is about?” one of my peers asked me, “Is another person leaving? Are they sending us all home?” she asked. I tried my absolutely hardest to convey I had no idea what was going on.
Coming out is always hard. Often rewarding, but it always takes a piece out of you, because it’s a moment of such great vulnerability. While I had good reason to believe that nobody in the house would reject me, I feared that after a year of intense politics and difficult house dynamics, my housemates might express anger that I decided to do this right at the end of the year.
“Damnit Brendan! Couldn’t you have waited until the year was over?” my fears speculated. To work through this, I wrote out a speech of exactly what I wanted to say.
By the end of the community dinner, everybody became very quiet. We entered the living room and drew sliding, wooden doors shut. No outsiders could observe what was happening. Nothing was going to leave this room. An attitude of anger and confusion hovered in the air.
“This meeting is about me.” I began, heads turned in surprise and confusion, “There is something I need to tell you.” Nobody said a word. My hands shook. The speech had already began. “I want to begin this by saying just how much I love each and everyone of you, how much you all mean to me. I bring this foreward to you because I love you…” my hands shook the five-subject notebook with the cursive-scribbled notes in front of me. “I have been going through a lot this year, both in this house, but also a lot within me, and I need to open up about something I’ve known to be true about me for a long time, and that’s that I’m transgender, I don’t identify as a man, and I want to live as a woman…” and so I prattled on, loosely touching on my notes and explaning why I feel the way I do, and how I would like to be called “Bren” and “She.” I ended my monologue.
There was a moment of silence. One of my housemates looked directly at me and said, “Can I just say, you go, girl!”
The room erupted into excitement and relief. “We thought you were leaving!” one of my housemates said. After some talking about how we were going to go forward, we all stood up and my housemates placed their hands on me to pray. I could have a church community that supported me.
“When you get a vagina, you have to let me see it!” One of my housemates later told me. I reassured her that I could show anybody my vagina who asked politely enough.
Another friend of my program reacted with excitement when I came out to her. “I just want to tell you,” Dani, a progressive Christian young minister said, “Being a woman is fucking amazing.” Two and a half years later, I totally agree. Dani would send me a bouquet of flowers addressed to “Bren.” That was the first time I saw my written name.
I knew I wanted to come out to my parents in person, and I also knew that was going to be a difficult experience. My brothers would be easier, I figured. One afternoon I closed the door to our beautiful guest room, sat on the most comfortable bed in the house, and called my brother. He’s a straightforward man, and I returned him the favor, I told him I am transgender, I go by “Bren” now, and I’m looking to get on hormones.
“Uh, I don’t really know what to say,” he said, “I’m really surprised, I don’t really know what to think. I mean, do you think you might be gay?” I told him that I do not think I’m gay. After discussing a few more details, especially about not telling our parents, he said “Well, you are my brother, I love you, and that’s not going to change.” Well, I’m his sister, but I appreciated the sentiment.5 In the time since then, he has grown to become my most supportive family member, and I love him dearly.
I began calling my friends to tell them. While none of my friends outright rejected me, some were a little confused as to what I meant by “Transgender.” They were confused and didn’t know what I meant exactly. One friend, a ciswoman, said “sometimes I think about if I had a dick…” Well, but you aren’t trans, now are you?
Genevieve and I went out for dinner that August, and I decided I really want to tell her what was going on with me. We met at a rustic “gentrifying” restaurant in the transforming stretch of St. Louis between its downtown and its theatre district. I ordered something vegan and unhealthy, and she ordered a beer from the restaurant’s brewery. “Well, there is something I wanted to tell you…” and I gave the best condensed version of a coming out speech.
“I’m not really that surprised, I always suspected there was something going on with you,” she began, “I just feel bad about what you’re going to have to go through.” By the end of the evening we were talking about penis sizes. I am a far better girlfriend than boyfriend.
The Honeymoon Ends
The first four weeks being out were wonderful: people supported me. People took me shopping. I was excited to begin this journey. And then I was fired from my job in Cincinnati.
I came out to the man who would have been my supervisor in the position, and he seemed unaffected. I sent him an email that day saying how glad I was to work for an open and affirming organization. Two days later, he called me and announced that my job offer was being rescinded, as my background check (which was very extensive and require me to list every single employer I’ve had) revealed “Too many red flags,” including a report from an unnamed former employer who described me as “Argumentative, mean-spirited, and cynical.”
Flailing over the phone, I said, “There have been times in my life where I was very depressed and that may have affected my work performance, which does not justify my actions but gives an explanation, is it possible that could be part of the conversation?”
“I don’t know how to have that conversation.” He flatly told me.
“Is this the last time we’re speaking?” I asked?
I erupted into tears, and immediately thought of what Hope told me when I broke up with her. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”
“Goodbye.” he said.
I paid a security deposit for an apartment in Cincinnati. My parents were set to move furniture there. I was about to buy a car. I had just started to come out. There was less than a month left in my program, and my security had been ripped away from me. My security had been ripped away from me while also reinforcing the narrative that I am a caustic and unpleasant person. I cried in the office. The administor immediately ran out to comfort me.
If the progressive, LGBT-friendly church wouldn’t even employ me, what was I going to do?
My supervisor at my job placement suggested I meet with two different transpeople he knew: A transman, Riley, and a transwoman, Carly. By this point in my life, I thought jobs were things you could magically pick up with “connections,” and the more people I met, the better chance at I had getting offered a position. Less cynically, I really wanted to learn about how to be trans, what exactly other people’s experiences and advice is.
Riley intimidated me. This wasn’t a bad thing: she was focused, direct, confident, authoritative, all the things that made me very quiet and just wanted to listen. While I had hoped we could talk more about perspective job opportunities in the area, when she, a JD and former lawyer, found out about my abrupt firing, things turned into a nuanced legal discussion that overwhelmed me.
Toward the end, she gave me her best advice: “Don’t tell your employers you are transgender until after you have already began transitioning.”
“You can hide that?” I guess I was not too familiar with how long the process of transitioning took.
“Oh yes, for at least the first six months you can wear a sports bra.” Well, I guess that makes sense, but that just seemed painful. “People might think you are starting to look funny, but they will almost never say anything.”
Well, it didn’t seem ideal, but after getting fired, I wanted to keep myself in check.
A few months prior, I had agreed to do a Summer guest sermon at the church. This would be my “coming out” sermon.6 And now it would have a prophetic and angry undertone as I struggled to understand why exactly I was fired from my job two days after I came out to a supposedly LGBT-affirming institution. I spent hours pouring over the readings that day, and rehearsing what I’d preach. This was the second to last week of the program, and I would soon be without a job or a home. I would put my entire soul into this sermon, consequences be damned.
That Sunday morning, I donned a preaching robe and processed with the acolytes, priests, and deacons. I sat still in the guest chair until it was my turn. After the gospel reading, I marched up the preaching pulpit. Two hundred sets of eyes, comprising of both the hoity-toity rich of the St. Louis Suburbs and the scores of urban homeless who found solace and food in here every day listened to me preach and bare my witness. This was the moment, the words have already been written. I built up the themes in my sermon, and then I entered the part that would change everything. “I,” there was a pause, “am transgender.”
It was there. It was out.
I spilled my hopes and fears, and I sincerely wished that my preaching wasn’t entirely heretical: I really wanted to convince myself, if not everybody else that something could be learned from this painful moment. I ended my sermon by evoking “The God of Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel,” and by stating that I looked forward to seeing “every single one of you” in the Kingdom of God.
“Amen.” The congregation applauded. As I left the pulpit, the verger, herself a queer woman, immediately approached me for a hug. They believed me.
I left St. Louis abruptly that fall. I found myself involved in a domestic dispute that wound up incorporating one of my former employers, and I found myself in a very unstable housing situation. Slanderous accusations were levied against me, and with no other options, I left the city for my parents’ house.
For a host of reasons, my mother believed me to be depressed and unstable, and required me to see a psychiatrist and a therapist. I went along with this, partially because I knew I couldn’t come out to her just yet, but also because I hoped that I might be able to use this mental health treatment to my use: As long as my mother was forcing me to see a host of psychiatrists and therapists, I was going to make the most of it to talk about my gender. Upon seeing my psychiatrist, I immediately unloaded on her what was going on.
She looked back at me. “Yes, that sounds like gender dysphoria, all right.”
“Can you get me hormones?”
“Oh no, you have to go to a specialist for that.”
This wasn’t going to be easy, would it?
For the next few months, I job hunted, and eventually started working and saving. I hid my dresses, tights, panties, bras, and makeup in my dresser. Any day now, my parents could find out.
I knew I had to come out to them. It was a sunday at the end of February. I went to a talk at Marquette University about Thomas Aquinas. My body quaked the entire time. I shook. I came home.
“Um, there is something I want to talk to you about,” I lead them to the living room. There was no going back.
I remember my mother screaming at me when I was about five, saying, “Why do you always have to ruin my day?!”
I remember my mother yelling at my brother and I in the car, saying, “That’s it. I don’t care anymore. You can eat and do whatever you want. I’m not going to make you brush your teeth, you can let them rot for all I care.”
I remember my mother being very upset that I was espousing “liberal” viewpoints as a child after I read an article about climate change.
I remember my mother screaming at me in the car when I was in fifth grade, “Oh, that’s it, I get it. Maybe when I’m dead! That’s when you’ll finally appreciate me.
I remember as we were driving through town a weekly event at a board game store. I asked if we could stop by quickly to see if the event was still going forward, or if it had been canceled. We got lost trying to find this board game store, and my mother became more and more upset. “We don’t have to go, really. We can just go home,” I said as I felt more and more uncomfortable. “Oh no,” she raised her voice, “You wanted to go to the pokemon card event, and we are going to the pokemon card event!”
I remember telling my mother how I wanted to visit the University of Minnesota. She told me I could just check on their website and use googlemaps to get an idea of the campus. I insisted that visiting the campus would be much more meaningful than just looking online, but she relented. “Well, mother,” I said, “I disagree.” “I Disagree!” she repeated back to me in a mocking tone of voice.
I remember the summer after my senior year of high school, my mother and I were set to work on a landscaping project in Oconomowoc, WI, a job that my father gave us to do. My mother became very anxiously suddenly about looking like a blue-collar laborer in public, and said she couldn’t work that day. I was upset, because we agreed to this, and planned it out. She yelled and screamed, “Nobody wants to help me! You and your father are one and the same!”
I remember my mother calling me, drunk and angry because somebody had jokingly posted “I’m Gay,” as my Facebook status. I told her it was a joke, and she yelled “You go fuck yourself!” and hung up.
I remember my mother yelling at me over the phone when I told her I was not interested in joining her for a Sarah Palin rally at the Wisconsin State Capitol. When she kept wanting to argue with me about politics, I told her repeatedly I wasn’t interested in debating this. She yelled, “OK, fine! You do whatever you want! Be a liberal! You can even join a union for all I care!”
I remember my mother looking through a drawer of my belongings and finding an old condom I got from an event. When I returned to my room that night, I saw she had placed the condom on the top of my dresser. The next morning she couldn’t look at me as she gave me a patronizing lecture about how I was making bad choices with my life. I was 22.
I remember mentioning to my mother how I didn’t like when she used the N-word or primate-based slurs to talk about Barack Obama. She got very upset, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry that you, in my house, are offended because I called The President of the United States a Nigger!”
I remember my mother screaming at my middle brother as we were cleaning the house for my youngest brother’s graduation party, “I hate this! I hate this! You leave! You get the fuck out of here!”
I remember mentioning Black Lives Matter to her when I was living and working in St. Louis. She became very cross and condescending. I told her I could email her some resources if she is interested in learning more about BLM and why they believe what they do. “I should have sent you to a better school,” she told me.
I remember my father striking me once. Maybe it was just a spanking. It was scary. I only remember the fear.
I remember my father upset at me for talking too much and he pinched nerve at the base of my neck and told me to stop condescending to people.
I remember my mother telling me on multiple occasions I dominated conversations and how I needed to stop that.
I remember a misunderstanding where my father thought I exposed myself to a younger girl, I had not, but he thought I did. I remember him screaming at me. Screaming. I was scared. I still can’t recall that event without shaking. The shame around it is so powerful it scares me. Memories like these are so painful, for years I would slap myself whenever I remembered them if only to distract myself.
I remember telling my father I did not especially well on a math test in 8th grade and him getting very upset at me. I cried. “You’re not going to make it as the manager of McDonald’s.” he said. Now I’m the manager of a dollar store. I am such a waste.
I remember feeling panicked and distressed at my McDonald’s job. I had worked their for a year, but I had not experienced the volume of costumers and the stress of the summer months. I was not responding well, and I was about to be a senior in high school. Couldn’t I just focus on my studies for once? I told my father I wanted to quit my post and he became very, very upset with me.
I remember my father and mother and youngest brother went on a church mission trip in an urban area. They spent their days working at soup kitchens and homeless shelters. I had just lost a job at a call center, a very difficult experience where I was reduced to tears every day by the volume and emotional abuse of the calls. My father castigated me in front of the family for failing to hold down another job and told me if I didn’t shape up, “I would be like the people they helped this week.” I left dinner crying. I could barely breathe.
I remember having a bad day and a minor misunderstanding made me very sad. as I was living with my parents, I didn’t have a room, so I slept in the open basement, and thus I went into the laundry room to cry. My father burst down and yelled at me to “Man up.” After they had gone to bed, I stuck my head in a pillow and cried so hard that my sense of the rest of the world went away. All of my pain, my confusion, my anger, my shame all melded into a tiny, black speck. I just wanted things to be different.
My father never apologized to me. Not once. My father never praised me. Never. He told me so: he thought if he ever praised me, I would become narcissistic and wouldn’t work as hard. I couldn’t do a thing right.
I thought this was all normal: parents regularly explode on their children. As late as high school, my mother would yell at me at least once a month to the point I would start crying. I mentioned this to one of my classmates when I was 17, and he looked confused. “My dad would kick my ass if I started crying.” Maybe I was the problem. After all, it was a running joke in the house, “Oh, we know Brendan’s home when there’s an argument going on with mother!” I felt a sense of shame and confusion as to why things were like this, and as I got older, I tried my hardest to avoid talking about politics or other things that made them angry.
My parents weren’t abusive, right? Abuse was when you locked your kids in a closet and hit them with a belt. Getting yelled at isn’t abuse. No, I must just be a whiney, hyper-sensative kid. I’ve been spending too much time listening to the liberals.
I felt guilty all the time. I tried very hard not to ask them for things, because I felt like I was such a great burden on them. I never felt like I did enough, and I wondered what they might have been able to get done with their lives if they didn’t have children like my brothers and I to take care of.
I’m sure if my parents got together, they could compile a list twice as long about how much of a nightmare I was as a child and young adult. The difference is, they have a lot of power as my parents, and I have very little power as their child. When I came out to them, and I was a fool to do it while I was living in their basement and using their car, I had so much to lose.
It was February 28th, 2016. I looked at my parents, both of whom sitting in different chairs. My little brother was downstairs.
“I’ve been wanting to have this conversation with you for some time, this is very hard, but I wanted to say how much I’ve appreciated your love, so I want to tell you something that’s been building inside of me for a long time, and that is, I’m transgender. I’m not saying you did anything wrong–”
“That’s because we didn’t!” She interjected. This wasn’t going to go the way I wanted.
“You aren’t effeminate! You aren’t effeminate at all! You don’t sit down and have a conversation with someone–” she carried on and on.
I don’t sit down and have conversations with anybody? What about all those nights in Madison I had dinner with my friends? What about the dozens of female friends I enjoyed far more as girlfriends than as perspective love partners? What about the long facebook and gchats? How could that possibly be true when I literately socialized the most in a female way?
“You never wanted to try on my clothes or makeup!”
I did want to. And I did try on both. But I hid this.
“Well,” my mother said, not able to even look at me, “The daughter we never had.”
My father hugged me that night. My mother hugged me only afterward. She couldn’t look at me.
“We’re not going to disown you,” my father said, “But I want you to know that this is very hard for us.”
“I told them.” I messaged my friends on facebook.
That night my mother sent me an email with a link to a transphobic pseudoscientific study. I stayed up late paying attention to the Oscars. Incidentally, Eddie Redmayne was nominated for Best Actor for his performance as a transwoman in the film The Danish Girl. I watched the film a few months later and found it fairly disappointing. The one scene I found compelling was when Redmayne’s character locks herself in a theatre closet and tries on a number of dresses. She strips nude and stares at herself for a moment, anxiously brushing her penis out of the way. I have experienced that moment dozens upon dozens of times, and I still experience that every time I take or shower or whenever I masturbate. The trans experience makes for a good novel or comic, but I don’t believe film can represent the extent of the psychological journey one goes through. Instead, the filmmakers created a film that focused mostly on the cisgender partner of the title character and the difficulty she has in understanding and supporting her now-wife. The film does not do justice to the experience of being transgender, much less the exciting history and courage of Lili Elbe. Much like how my mother, instead of listening or privately grieving, turned to making my transition all about her, cisgender allies and antagonists keep dominating our narratives. I wrapped myself in my blankets and slept despite the confusion and uncertainty.
I arrived home from work. My mother stomped around the kitchen. She was angry, and continued her diatribe about how I wasn’t effeminate at all, and how I was “I’m going to have a lot of things to say, and you aren’t going to like it!”
My mother wasn’t wrong. My father told me I had to leave the house, and asked me how long this was going to take. I said one, two months at the very most. He did claim that he was going to ask me to leave anyway, but this just prompted it faster. I’m not sure if I believe that.
This came as an ultimatum: in exchange for me living in the house for another month or so, I had to see my childhood psychiatrist again, and I needed to sign the paperwork to let my parents sit in the same room. My mother, seemingly unaware this is not how therapy works with adults, relented. She claimed that if she wasn’t in the room telling my psychiatrist about how I supposedly have anxiety, depression, bipolarity, and autism (of which I have none), I would somehow deceive them, or fail to get the “proper” diagnosis. I accepted this ultimatum.
My mother went on a diatribe about how she, as a nurse, works with mentally ill and suicidal patients everyday, and how for years she was so glad that her kids weren’t like that, but now she is in shock to realize that “her son” really is fucked up like these people, and how she would have given her right arm for me to be well. This was the day she brought up how my late grandparents would be so ashamed of me.
“You never showed any signs of this!” She added, “You never played with dolls growing up!”
Feeling flippant, I asked “What makes you so sure of that?” after all, she seemed to be completely oblivious to the hours of forced feminization erotica I read, or all the times I stole her clothes.
“Well, maybe you fucked one!”
That was the first time I ever heard my mother say “Fuck” as a verb. That felt far, far dirtier than anything I ever heard her say. That broke my heart. I couldn’t believe my ears.
My father raised his voice, “I WILL NOT be sitting through another dinner like this!” and since then he has silently left the room whenever my mother started to become transphobic.
And so the days went. 5:30, I woke up, and left for work, arriving an hour early, when I would doze off in the foyer of the hotel, waiting for one of the keyholders to come by. At work, I distracted myself and spent more time than I should have looking at apartment listings. After work, I drove to the gym, and spent two hours on the longest workout possible, biking for cardio, lifting weights, and then going to the grocery store. By 8 PM, I returned home and immediately went to bed. The second I turned off the lights at the top of the basement stairs, I knew I was almost safe: it would only take a focused 20 seconds to make it back under the fluffy blankets of the futon. And so it continued until Laundry Night.
I couldn’t escape her. I was trying to sleep, and one has to pass through the main room of the basement in order to get to the laundry room.
“I have a question for you, Brendan,” she beckoned me. It wasn’t a real question. She wanted to hurt me. This was the night she brought up the religious angle. Things went poorly, and she started yelling at me:
“You spoiled little shit, you spoiled little SHIT!” She continued, relenting on and on how I’m so mean and how I run away and hide instead of letting my mother talk over me. She yelled at me: “You’re not a woman, you’ll never be a woman, the only kind of woman you can ever be is a bull-dyke, because you’re so mean!” she continued in a condescending voice, almost with a british accent, “Oh no, you’re not a woman at all.”
she relented: “My father was a very intelligent man. And he named me Cassandra, after the prophetess of doom. And I have to say, I really don’t see you surviving this.”
“There you are, running off again, you’re so mean because you won’t talk about this!”
The irony of this all is, her conviction that I am going to kill myself only made me want to not kill myself even more.
That week, I saw the psychiatrist. Dr. Rosencrantz saw me as an 8-year-old child, when my parents took me for several rounds of testing and pharmaceuticals when they were convinced something was wrong with me. Some of the testing allegedly suggested I may have what was then called Asperger’s syndrome, but the fact that I have seen four therapists and two psychiatrists as an adult, and none of whom diagnosed me with autism, as well as received a score on the Baron-Cohen that places me well outside of the spectrum, I do not believe that was an accurate diagnosis. It was no matter, my mother remained convinced that I am somewhere on the spectrum, and that I am somehow mistaken that I am transgender, and am using this as some sort of emotional crutch while ignoring my pervasive anxiety and depression problems (which I have neither).
I took time off work to drive to the Rosencrantz’ clinic, giving myself enough time to fill out the heaps of paperwork, including the waiver to allow my parents to sit in the room. My parents were late. They spoke in hushed tones. We gathered into her office.
“Hello, good morning,” Dr. Rosencrantz greeted us, her red hair tinted with grey streaks, and her wall bearing her MD and psychiatric recommendations. “It’s funny seeing you again, Brendan.” I didn’t specifically remember her. “How can I help you today?”
My mother butted in, “We’re here because Brendan has very serious issues with depression, anxiety, ADHD, and Aspergers, and we wanted to be able to tell you what is going on.”
“OK,” she continued to look confused at this whole arrangement. “And Brendan?”
“I just came out to my parents as transgender.”
“Oh, that’s so cool.” Dr. Rosencrantz responded, placing her palm on the side of her head. My mother started to tear up from anger. “Well, that’s a matter of psychotherapy, and I’m not really able to help.”
“But,” my mother objected, “He has some serious issues, and we’ve had him tested before, and we need to get him on the right medication.”
Dr. Rosencrantz spoke a little about what she knew about trans issues, and admitted that she was not especially well-read, which was obvious in how she referred to me as a “he” for our session, but I could tell she genuinely was on my side. We ran through a questionnaire of depression, anxiety, bipolarity, autism, and ADHD, and she concluded that I most likely do not have any of those conditions.
My mother was having none of this. “But, but what about all of the bad influences he’s had in his life!” Yes, my going to one of the most prestigious public universities in the United States, my belonging to a church community that entire time, and my working for churches since, yes, they were the bad influences.
“Cassie, shame on you! There is nothing wrong with your son! I don’t understand you, you are a nurse, it is your job to help people.”
“Well,” she said as we were ending our session, “I recommend you should schedule a psychotherapy appointment, and you should schedule that for yourself!”
We all left. My father didn’t say a damn thing.
After I moved out, my mother continued to repeat her abuse. She send me anti-trans propoganda the day after the Orlando shooting.
After I started seeing a gender therapist, she kept calling and emailing her, demanding to speak about “her son.” I gave permission to my therapist to call my mother once.
That summer she insisted I come back over to her house to “You little shit-ass! There are four people in this family that love and care about each other. You are not one of them!” I kept my cool as my mother continued her angry diatribe. “Oh, if you were really transgendered, you would sit down and tell us more about it! You would help us through this!”
“Well, how about we go to a PFLAG meeting together sometime?” I told her. “They have some really good resources at the LGBT center.”
“You expect me to sit with those people? No! I want you to sit down with us and have a conversation!”
I had plenty of “conversations,” which consisted of me being yelled at and everything I said mocked, ignored, or interrupted.
“OK, what if I wrote you an essay about how I feel and why? I am much better at collecting my thoughts through writing than I am through speaking.”
“No,” she said definitively, “I want to be able to respond.”
She continued to get angrier as I approached my car. She blew up, “I have two sons! Two sons and that’s it!”
I thought to myself, “Well, she’s technically right.”
I kept my therapist’s letter of my diagnosis of gender dysphoria in my car. That October, a month on hormones, my car’s transmission blew, and I was forced to have the car towed. My mother agreed to pick it up from the mechanic to get it fixed. At work, I received a flurry of text messages telling me that my letter of diagnosis, which recaps the intimate details of what I told my therapist over the course of months, was all lies. “False diagnosis” she messaged me. She did not give me my letter back for a month, until the next time I stopped by to drop off a car payment, she told me as I was leaving, “I have your letter.”
“Oh,” I said.
“I showed this to your father. Is this true? Did you start?”
“Yes.” she broke into tears.
“I told you this is what I wanted to do.” It was no matter. I left.
My mother would send me awful emails and facebook messages: “You will believe only what you want to believe. When you drown yourself with sick minded information you will believe it.”
In another she chastised me for not voting for Donald Trump. This comes to little surprise given how she blasts Fox News and talk radio at home.
She often sent me articles from “Natural News” websites claiming that everything from sunscreen to teflon is disrupting my hormone count and causing me to think I’m trans. This struck me as odd, as she seems to fluculate between thinking transgender people exist, but I just so happen to mistakenly think I’m one of them. She sent me emails like:
“Sunscreens not what you thought they were. Brendan please read these collections of studies regarding sunscreens.
(Remember, cigarettes were promoted for decades before the truth came out to the public regarding their health risks. Now one can’t smoke in mose public places. It used to be that the MD would prescribe smoking for weight loss, anxiety, sleep.)
It is proven that the chemicals in sunscreens cause hormone disruption in many species. It is well proven the dangers of using products that contain these chemicals. You have slathered on sunscreen containing hormone disrupting chemicals for many years.”
The linked article actually used the phrase, “Gender-bending chemicals” to discuss how frogs in certain situations are known to change sex.
In September of 2017, my mother sent me a series of emails which I have compiled here, grammar and spelling intact:
Brendan you are a sick young man. If you think what you’re doing is good, Worthy, honorable, something that will get you someplace, you are very wrong and are operating with a very sick mind. You need help young man. Please don’t use the name J–. I will not have my name disgraced by your behavior any longer. Your tweets are revolting. You need help you are a very sick person Brendan. Perhaps it’s time I take your phone number off of my plan and you can find your own. The Prodigal Son for sure off slutting around trying to be a woman give me a f****** break Your little coming out party is so pathetic. Clearly you are so desperate for anyone to give you attention. In addition to not using the J– name I think you should ask your father if you can even use the O– name. Your behavior is so disgraceful & discusting. You need help. Find the courage to get the proper help you’re sick very very sick. Get out of the gutter. Must be some pretty phenomenal people you’re hanging with. Desperate pathetic sad waste of the gifts you have been given. Brendan you need to take the time and do thay yourself. I put you on as able to accrss the account. You need to pay for the phone tgat you lost. Let me know what you find out. I DO not want any of your fees on my credit card. You need also to cancel your contract….no idea that cost. I hope you realize sooner rather than later the desperate attempts you are doing for acceptance. It is horribly pathetic. (I will be changing my advanced directives) Additionally since you are so grown up & living the life that you choose, I thought i would let you know I no longer care if your sick truth is exposed. I am at peace with exposing your severe illness. Saddly dad will not allow us to share it w grama Bea. Although we will see her soon & given the fact that she is under the belief that you are an outstanding individual her 1st grandson I may not keep your vulgur repulsive sick life from her. I must report the truth of your severe sexual illness dysfunction & liberal hatred for all decent mankind. And the fact that you are living intentionally as a slut pig. Have fun! Hoo hoo!! DO NOT USE MY NAME J– ANYMORE. YOU ARE NOT A J–. You will owe somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 for phone + $2-300 for breech contract + your monthly charges untill you are off the cell plan.
Mother disowned me yesterday. Or was it today? I can’t be sure.
I can imagine another universe, one very similar to ours. So similar, there is only one major detectible difference: A person just like my mother in every way had a first child who looked exactly like me, except this counterpart was a boy. He would grow up enjoying sports and other athletic activities. When the parents moved from Florida to Wisconsin, he quickly made friends and adjusted to the new climate and neighborhood. He got along with his brother, who looked and acted exactly like my brother. They were close friends who played together, conspired together, and were true brothers. He adapted the best characteristics of his parents: the child drew from the discipline and formal composure of his father, and from the openness and passion of his mother. When he reached puberty, he became very interested in forming relationships with women. Taking into account his personal style and the suggestions of his friends and parents, he cultivated a clean, handsome look. His mother took great pride in how beautiful of a man he became. His father never praised him or said he loved him, but his son knew intuitively just how much joy he brought his father. He would earn a scholarship to a prestigious university, deciding to focus on academics instead of athletics. His lifetime of charisma and discipline and boy scout values helped him achieve an enviable GPA in a practical and versatile course of study. He found immediate success in the field, thanks to two summers of internships, and a closet of clean, pressed, fitted clothes. At 27, he married his long-term girlfriend in a summer wedding overlooking the pristine shores of Lake Michigan. At 30, he was promoted and his wife had their first child. By 45, he had moved up the ranks of his field, achieving great recognition in the field thanks to his tireless work, crisp, distinct voice, and genuine friendliness. His East Coast colleagues praised his Midwestern Friendliness, his West Coast colleagues praised his old-fashioned values. His family settled on three children, two boys and a girl. Despite his rank in the company, he took great pains to be active in his children’s lives. His parents, happily retired, were filled with overwhelming joy at having three beautiful, boisterous, happy grandchildren in their lives. His parents moved closer to him, and the arrangement could not have worked out any better. He aged gracefully with his beautiful wife, who found the time and energy to be active in the local community and church. Having made several successful investments, he was able to retire early, leaving his wife and himself free to travel, to volunteer for a variety of causes, to make new friends, and pick up new hobbies. His children followed in his footsteps, each one cultivating virtues and finding success and meaning in their respective fields. His mother, in her declining health, found a caretaker in her eldest son, who did everything in his power to make her feel loved and comforted. She could not have asked for a more beautiful son.
My mother will never have that son. All I can offer her is myself, her daughter. And I try my hardest to be the most virtuous and loving daughter I can possibly be–I came out to her in person, I answered her questions, I visited the psychiatrist she told me to visit, I let her speak to my therapist, I visited her at least once a month, I offered to go with her to a PFLAG meeting. I offered everything short of agreeing to stop my transition–I will never give up being her daughter. And she has to do is say, “Bren, you are my daughter,” and I just might be able to begin the long path of forgiveness.
I just might be able to begin the long path of forgiveness for years of her toxic mothering, for refusing to get mental health treatment despite it being overwhelmingly obvious she is not well, for outright verbal and emotional abuse, for kicking me out of her house when I needed her help the most, for stealing private medical information from me, and for involuntarily outing me.
Until then, I wait for her.
From time to time, I get a vision in my mind of having my own child. The very first things I would do is hold them, cradling them gently in my arms. And I would say, “I will never hurt you.”
I was extraordinarily lucky to find out that not only was the sole transgender clinic in the Milwaukee area was only a mile away from my workplace, they also had after-hours sessions. Despite my insurance not covering the sessions, I eagerly booked a session with the first gender therapist they had available.
I sat in the tiny waiting room, fresh from a grueling day of work. My wrinkly shirt tucked into my khaki pants with multiple competing pleats, I looked like a man. I had a “man-bun.” By this point, I had told four different therapists and two psychiatrists that I feel like a woman. None of them were hostile, but also none specialized in gender. She did.
“Bren?” my new therapist, Christie, called. I got up and walked toward her, but found myself shaking as she guided me to the room. I sat down at the couch. I looked at her. She was young. She wasn’t even listed on the clinic’s website yet. I checked her LinkedIn, she was the same age as me, and she was my therapist.
She gave me an outline for the procedure, we would have weekly sessions until she believed I was ready to undergo an official gender interview. At the end of that, she could offer an official diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria, and I would be able to approach an endocrinologist to get on HRT. Many of my trans friends dislike this model in particular, calling it “Gatekeeping,” and asserting that it only lets certain kinds of transpeople, the more binary ones in particular, get the hormones they need. Many transmen especially dislike the primary gender therapist in this establishment, claiming she is insensitive and extremely behind the times when working with FTM or non-binary AFAB7 patients. The primary alternative to the gatekeeping model is the informed consent model, wherein a person goes to a clinic that informs the patient exactly what the risks of going on hormones are, and then gives a prescription after they sign a waiver and go through the necessary blood work.
I decided to go with the gatekeeping model for a number of reasons: the nearest informed consent clinic is Howard Brown in Chicago, which is a solid hour-and-a-half commute. To get refills to my prescription, I would have to go all the way back to that specific clinic; I knew that if I wanted any surgeries in the future, I would need therapists to confirm my gender identity; I hoped that having a certified professional confirm that I have gender dysphoria would help convince my parents that I’m not crazy; I hoped that having a certified professional confirm that I have gender dysphoria would help with the small voice in my head that worried that I’m crazy.
In one session, Christie pushed back at me, “You keep saying that,” Christie said, “that you’re crazy. Why do you think that?”
“Because others, my parents, they make me feel like I’m crazy? I’m scared that I really am sick and delusional and I don’t know what I’m doing.” I replied. “I mean, of all the people you have worked with, have you ever turned anybody down for hormones?”
“Twice, both times the client agreed by the end. But you will get the diagnosis. You will get on hormones. You will go full time.” She smiled, “You are the most cut-and-dry case I have ever worked on.”
After a number of preliminary sessions where I discussed my medical history, interest in transitioning, stressors, and other factors, Christie told me we would be moving forward for an official interview. During the interview, Christie would ask me a series of pointed questions about a topic for that day, and probe deeply into my experiences, all without offering any sort of counsol or response. This was an investigation, not really “therapy.”
The six sessions went like this:
The final question she asked me, “Why do you want to go on hormones?”
Why DO I want to go on hormones? Why would I want to make these slow, subtle changes to my body, with no promise that I will ever “pass” in society as a woman? I would I decide to spend exhorbitant amounts of money and time and emotional energy to become a person who will not be accepted everywhere. As she said, people will hate me. People have already rejected me.
Why would I want to go on hormones?
I want to go on hormones, because I want to live my life as a woman. I want to have a body that is publicly and privately understood as a woman’s body. I want to enter social situations as a woman. I want to make love as a woman. Hormones will change some aspects of my body and my psychology to help me both feel like a woman, and live like a woman. Hormones will make me feel less like a man, and make me feel more like myself.
She accepted that answer, and wrote a letter outlining my experiences of gender dysphoria, which I would then take to a doctor to get a prescription for estradiol and spironolactone. The date to meet with my doctor (an OBGYN, no less!) was set: September 21st, the last day of summer: the changing of the seasons.
It rained that day. I was rolled my head around neck thinking about the gravity of what I was doing. Really, it’s a gamble. Maybe I would just grew tiny breasts and a little softer skin and that was it. Maybe I would be like my friend and grow DD-breasts. All transitions are a crapshoot.
The doctor, a clean, composed Indian National of a diminutive stature, walked into the room. He asked me a few questions, mostly about my personal health conduct, inducing if I was attracted to men or women, and then began to outline things that could happen under HRT. My body gittered. I was convulsing.
“You are a very tense person,” he said.
“I want you to know that, everywhere I have been, I have always been an outsider. I do not know exactly what you are going through, but I have had a similar experience…” tears whelmed up in my eyes. He would go on to talk about the progression of my breasts, and possible health risks. I couldn’t focus, I just wanted to start hormones.
1500 dollars, 5 months of therapy, an emotionally-taxing job I hated, and a torrent of abuse from my family, and I was about to start hormones.
I popped the T-blockers, and placed the estrogen pill under my tongue.
I brought the burning coal to my lips, and immediately I began my healing.
PART IV: MY BODY
My parents should have expected their first child would be something different when they saw my infant body. I was different; I was born with 9 toes. The second and third toes on my right foot were connected, fully webbed from the base of my foot to the end of the two toes.
I was always told I was different. Perhaps I acted that way too, because I thought I could never be normal.
There are parts of my body that I like. My hairline is straight and will likely never recede. My hair is beautiful, robust, and curly. I loved growing it out and feeling it brush against my face in the wind. My fingers are those of a piano player, long and elegant. My forehead is vertical, most AMABs have sloping foreheads. My cheekbones pop out of my face when I smile. My skin is smooth and milky. My posterior is compact and shapely.
There are parts of my body I’m not sure how I feel about. I am six feet tall, which is pretty tall for a woman. I once met a transwoman who was about 5’4”, and her height alone did so much in the order of making her pass. My nose is a bit wider than most women’s. My hips are fairly narrow.
There are parts of my body that make me feel dysphoric. My chin is more square and prominent than most women’s. My facial hair still leaves a shadow, even after a solid shaving. My brow is very low, making my eyes look especially deep-set. I have male genitalia, which causes me a good deal of pain and frustration. Even if I didn’t have explicit bodily dysphoria around my penis and testicles, these body parts make it difficult to dress fully the way I would like to, and all but excludes me from women’s spaces that involve nudity (locker rooms, saunas, retreats, women’s facilities in the military, etc.)
My lack of a vagina and a uterus causes me emotional pain. I will never have a period, and I will never be able to have my own biological children. While many ciswomen tell me I should consider myself lucky that I don’t menstruate, or how there’s still adoption, I really would like people to consider how there is a set of major, culturally-universal experiences I can never share, even if they are, in a sense, unpleasant.
The first step for most transpeople is to take hormones. Usually surgeons will not perform on anybody who has not been on a course of doctor-prescribed hormones for at least a year.
My body is changing. There are parts of my body that I did not like that have gotten better with HRT. During first three months, my skin cleared up. Before, I was able to pinch my nose and gather enough oil on my fingertips to leave prints on any counter top or book cover. Now, my face is soft and smooth. So are my arms, my legs, my stomach, and my back. My arms and legs are no longer quite as jagged and vascular, but milky and inviting.
My face is changing. It’s subtle, but my cheekbones became far more prominent and my jawline softened. This change is very welcome, as my old face looked exceedingly blocky and masculine. I look cuter, more “fashion forward.” I love it.
Within the first two months, I developed breast buds. Suddenly I couldn’t lay on my stomach (but since I sleep on my back, it was no matter) without causing discomfort. Growth is slow, but steady. While breasts were not my first priority when I started transitioning (I feel much greater dysphoria around my torso, face, and genitals), I have welcomed and come to love having breasts. I may be interested in the near future in getting a breast augmentation, but I’m really just looking for a pleasant B-Cup. Until then, I am reminded of a line from Shakira’s song, Wherever, Whenever: “Lucky my breasts are small and humble, so that you don’t confuse them for the mountains!”
My torso changed. Body fat redirected itself to around my hips and breasts, easing my very masculine stomach into a sleaker, more subtly feminine frame. It’s not a lot, and I would wish I had definitively feminine hips, but even this little change has made it so much easier to look in the mirror. As with the changes in my face, skin, and bust, when I observe the changes, it feels like I’m seeing the person I’ve always imagined myself to look like in my head.
Within two weeks, I suddenly lost the urge to masturbate everyday. It wasn’t even that I thought about masturbating and decided not to, I just stopped thinking as much about sex. My daily 30-40 minute sessions, with their drawn-out and explosive climaxes without pleasure soon turned into about 2 sessions a month. On HRT, those sessions changed in their character: while before I almost always had to kneel leaning forward, if to both simulate missionary sex and help the blood flow into my reluctant penis. I now rouse myself by lying on my back and spending sometime stimulating my perenium in a motion similar to fingering. While I would eventually stroke my penis, I would find myself thinking more of men, of having a man on top of me, inside of me.
My orgasms changed. Physically, I stopped ejaculating. Instead of the “Pulsing through my penis” feeling, I feel more of a “seizing” deeper within me.
It’s much harder for me to become aroused and come, but I do find the whole experience so much richer. After I come from a session of rubbing my perineum, massaging my breasts, lacing my legs around the frame of my bed, and ending with a few final strokes on my penis, I feel warmer, more flush. My whole being feels richer, earthier, and more full as a body. Rather than feel disgust, I want to cuddle.
As much of a stereotype as it sounds, I really cannot imagine having sex with anybody that I do not love, or at least have a strong emotional connection to. Without that overall emotion, that narrative, sex just feels mechanical, folds of flesh and coursing blood rubbing.
As fun as it is to talk about sex, there have been a great number of other psychological changes I have experienced, all of which I could characterize around a deepening and enriching of my emotional faculties. Living with the hormonal counts of a man, it was incredible just how flat my emotional states generally were. I got angry, I sometimes felt sad, I cried maybe about once every six weeks. So often I would be sad or upset, and wonder why I wasn’t crying. I physically could not.
Women tend to cry more, but crying felt different: I would find myself tearing up or crying over sentimental things that before would barely register with me. I could cry over memories or regrets, friends’ weddings, especially memorable pieces of music, and often over my bouts of dysphoria.
To take the obvious metaphor of weather, crying as a man felt like Louisiana, with its torrential downpours. Living as a man, I only cried when I was truly hurting, engulfed in shame and anger. Crying as a woman was more like a Seattle or Ireland, where there are more times when I do cry, but it’s lighter, it can be refreshing, it’s spontaneous and often easier to recover from (I blot a napkin under my eyes and carry on with my day).
I cry when I think about children sometimes. Before transitioning, I was afraid of kids (which is not a gendered trait per say, as I’ve met plenty of men and women who do not like kids) and I found it almost impossible to imagine myself with a happy family. My feelings changed quite a bit as I started Hormone Replacement Therapy: I started to like children, or at least the idea of having my own. Perhaps this is because I started moving past the bits and bobs of my childhood trauma, or maybe I began to feel more emotionally settled and loving, but now I do see a future for myself with children in the picture. What makes this all difficult is how HRT has almost certainly sterilized me. My sperm is dead, and I did not decide to spend the thousands of dollars of freezing my sperm before transitioning. Of course, I am primarily interested in dating men, so even if I were to have frozen my sperm, I would need to get a surrogate mother, and that’s not something I feel completely comfortable doing. But more than that, I cannot give birth, as I do not have ovaries. Barring some sort of medical miracle, this will not be changing soon, and I must accept that I cannot have the sort of traditional birthing experience that the vast number of women in the world experience.
One of the things that hormones do not change is the sound of your voice. If you are a MTF transgender person, hormones will not raise your voice: the damage was done during puberty, and your vocal cords will not contract.8 Thus, the rumor that Michael Jackson took “female hormones” (a myth that even Chris Hedges repeated in one of his speeches) is complete nonsense. If you would like to change your voice, you have to deliberately affect your speech through training. If your goal is to pass, your voice can make or break your presentation: a passable voice helps you navigate the transphobic, cissexist world with a little bit more security. And for many transpeople, myself included, I experience dysphoria around my voice.
I would like to be able to pass as a woman in public, thus I practice my voice. I record myself playing around with different voices to get a sense of my pitch, my timbre, my resonance, my inflection, and so forth. Changing your pitch is often not enough: women tend to speak from their “head,” whereas men speak from the back of their throats. Women, especially in the United States and in the 21st century, tend to “fry” their voices, making that creaky, breathy sound associated with Kim Kardashian or Zooey Deschanel. Men tend to speak in a monotone, but women often have a more “melodic” quality to their voices. None of these are absolute, and there are plenty of exceptions, but the goal for finding your voice, or at least finding my voice, is not to invent some sort of artificial voice out of whole cloth, it’s about finding the voice of the woman inside me.
I’m not entirely there yet, but I have worked hard for months to figure out the sort of pitch I can maintain, and the sort of infection and affect that just feels right for me. I listen to this voice, and I think, “Yes, this is a woman. This is me.” Hopefully I will be able to get some voice coaching in the near future to file down the rough edges, but I do see it as promising how I have been gendered correctly on the phone in recent months.
I work to change my voice, but I also find my voice and my whole personality and affect changing as well. Transitioning often feels like I am getting permission to finally be as femme as I’ve always wanted to be, but left constricted by fear and social expectations. I find myself being more playful in my conversation, less pedantic, more flowery in my word choice, and less blunt as I was as a boy. I can laugh more, I can tear up when I want to, I can be more touchy, I can be fluid in my body language: my speech isn’t just a set of words, it’s my whole person in motion.
In a sentence, transitioning makes me feel both at home in my body, and know that my body is good; just as I suffer from dysphoria when the experience of my body and social standing make me feel separated from the gender and the sex I identify as, I also experience gender euphoria when my body, mind, and presentation align with my sense of femininity. The first time somebody called me “Ma’am” over the phone, I pumped my fist into the air and mouthed “YES! YES! YES!” When I attended my friend’s wedding, and a member of his generally conservative family struck up a conversation with me in the bathroom as if I were any other girl. When I finally saw the beginnings of a subtle hourglass of my hips, adding some curves to my flat, boyish torso. When I wore a bikini to the beach and felt so free among the waves. When I visited St. Louis for the first time in two years, and the administrator for the congregation I worked at squealed and fawned over me, saying, “Bren, you are our baby girl!” When my new roommates gendered me correctly without me prompting them. When I kissed my first boy while presenting as a girl. When I looked at the mirror after a year of hormones and saw the impressions of a woman’s face looking back at me. These are moments with such great joy, they truly feel spiritual, as if God placed these bursts of joy as a guiding light, like the cloud in the desert, to get me through this time in the Wilderness.
PART V: I WILL CHANGE YOUR NAME
In the book of Genesis, God forms a covenant with the nomad Abram, leading to the covenant with all Jewish people. In part of that agreement, Abram becames Abraham, and his wife Sarai becomes Sarah. Jerusalem becomes Zion, Saul becomes Paul. Brendan becomes Bren.
While my support network had been calling me Bren since I started coming out, I was reminded of my legal name and legal gender every time I pulled out my old ID. While joining my friends to a cocktail bar dressed to the nines, I still pulled out the same card I received when I was 19. My close-cropped curly hair and square smile drew a resemblance to Will Ferrell. The person in the ID looked so confused, so unlike the sort of spirit I felt inside. But it was no matter, the state knew me as Brendan, and the state knew me as a man.
Never was this more apparent than an evening I spent with my transman friend Matthew. Along with a mutual friend of ours, we drove to a park in suburban Milwaukee at night, not realizing how the park had “closed” hours. As soon as we left our vehicle, a police crusier hiding in the splendid, isolated darkness of this park approached us and demanded an explanation for our after-hours arrival. I apologized and claimed ignorance to the rules.
“I’m going to need to see your ID,” he said, pointing a flashlight at the three of us. I had my ID, and so did our other friend, but Matthew did not. “What is your name?” the police officer asked. Matthew responded by giving a name that sounded like “Matthew,” but was generally given to girls. I did not react. I did not bring this up to Matthew again. But I learned his old name, his “birth name,” his deadname.
I felt dirty: when we had first met, I, in my ignorance of transgender manners, asked him what his old name used to be. He very graciously told me that this was something he, and a lot of other transpeople do not like discussing, and said he did not feel comfortable sharing that. In this moment I learned a piece of his past that causes him pain, I learned a tidbit of information that the state and his family uses to ignore and oppress his very real identity. I learned something I wish I didn’t need to know. And I came to realize that as long as I kept the name on my driver’s license, the state could always coerce a transperson to deadname themselves, an act of psychological violence.
This is not just the state, either: from August of 2015, when I started applying for jobs after the debacle of my Cincinnati position, I realized how almost every job application asks for both a legal name, and legal sex. Of course, one could write down their social name, but things will get messy when you try to bring identification to prove your eligibility to work. HR will demand to know your legal name, and if you have a public schedule, there is a very good chance that one’s legal name, one’s deadname, will be the one used on the scheduling sheet.
As I interviewed for jobs in the winter of 2015/2016, I learned how Wisconsin does not have a state-wide non-discrimination protection for trans people. Milwaukee and Dane counties do, but Waukesha county, where I worked in a soul-crushing and toxic office job from January of 2016 to the day after Donald Trump’s election, does not. My job at the time could legally fire me purely for being transgender. For those eleven months I worked closeted, while growing my hair out and eventually starting hormones. For every one of those days, I was called “Brendan,” and I had to pick up the phone dozens of times a day, calling myself “Brendan.”
I came out to one co-worker, who later accepted a position of authority over me. She took me into a room at one point to criticize my poor performance on the job. “I’m a little curious why you keep calling me ‘Brendan,’” I meekly asked after she had expressed her displeasure.
“Until you are out to the whole office, I will call you what you go by.” she responded. I apologized for having even asked that.
I continued to do poorly at my job, and not the least because of the daily bullying I received from a woman in the office. “I’m sorry for thinking you were smart enough to do this right!” she yelled at me once. I hated that job, and I cried how I could not be my full self in that environment.
[this is what I looked like closeted. I was not happy.]
The sad truth is, the politics and values of the queer circles I had joined, with its strategic listening, with the “Ouch!” rule, with the recognition of one’s name and pronouns, these were not the values of any workplace I could find. And so I lingered as “Brendan” as long as I could.
By the time I was interviewing for positions in the winter of 2016/2017, I was in a bit of a difficult place: I had been on hormones for over two months, and there was no way I would be cutting the hair I so grueling grew past the awkward phase. Arriving to the interview presenting femme and announcing that my name and gender are different from what I had submitted an application as might possibly work for Starbucks or an independent bakery, but not for any sort of position that pays a living wage. And so I bite the bullet and interviewed for a number of positions in a fitted suit and tie and my hair gathered in a “man-bun.” I could see in the interviewer’s faces their discomfort and confusion with me, and I most likely radiated discomfort with my presentation. By the end of January, I had completed four months of hormones, and I was still unemployed. Out of desperation, I accepted a position as a retail manager for a dollar store, where my long hair didn’t look too out of place alongside a other managers in the company with forearm tattoos and extensive criminal records. Still, everybody called me “Brendan,” and everybody called me “he.”
There is a solution to keep both the state and my employer from calling me the name I outgrew: I can legally change it.
The process cost a fair amount: Getting a notarization of the petition for name change was 5 dollars; filing for a court hearing cost 168 dollars; a new birth certificate (as I so conveniently lost my Florida certificate) cost 50 dollars; filing a public notice in the newspaper cost 115 dollars; obtaining copies of the name change form cost 25 dollars; acquiring a new social security card cost 30 dollars. In total, I paid about $400 to legal change my name.
I requested off work the morning of May 24th. I woke up and it was drizzling. I washed my hair tossed possible dresses on my coach. Moments before I started applying foundation, my boss called me in that morning to open up the store. I was horrified, would I be able to make it on time? This was court we are talking about, the judge literately has the power to deny my name change, and that’s not an uncommon event with trans people. Scrambling, I tucked my dress into a pair of baggy pants and threw a wrinkled, oil-stained button-down shirt over my torso. Yes, I had a fair amount of mascara supporting my eyelashes and eyeliner framing my eyes, but I figured my boss doesn’t look very closely at me anyway, and probably assumes I’m gay.
I drove to the store and gave him my keys, “I can’t stay long, I have to hurry,” I told my manager, “I’m going to court. And it’s civil court, not criminal court. I didn’t do anything wrong.” He understood, and I somehow made it back in time to finish my makeup, take about 20 selfies, and drove to the courthouse.
The majestic marble of the courthouse made me feel so small. The metal detectors and armed guards reminded me just how much authority the city had over me. The values of the state are not the values of my queer circles: if I do not bend to their rules and their language, they will break me. And thus, I put aside all of my Leftist indignation and drew into the hearing room with the humbleness of the repentant tax collector. I gave the secretary my papers. I waited. Fifteen minutes later, the judge entered. We rose, and I took an oath in the court.
She asked me a series of questions:
“What is your name?”
I told her my birth name.
“What are you petitioning to change your name to?”
I told them my full, rich name.
“Could you spell that?”
I spell the name.
“Do you have any outstanding debts?”
“What is your profession?”
“I am a retail manager.”
“Does your profession require any kind of licensing?”
“Are you a convicted Felon?”
“Are you a convicted Sex offender?”
“The motion for name change is granted.”
I went into the courts bathroom, and came out to two women washing their hands, one with a massive black purse and the loudest boots I’d ever heard. I joined them at the ivory sinks. I was one of them. I had a girl’s name. The state agreed with me. The police want to hear my girl-name. HR at my job wants to know my girl-name. My health insurance provider wants to know my girl-name.
I walked to the Milwaukee Public Library, with it’s easier-to-photograph lighting and fewer foot traffic. Smiling, I posted the picture holding the legal document.
My name is Bren Beatrix, and nobody could take that away from me.
PART VI: WHAT IF I’M TRANS?
This is a difficult journey. I often have days where I have an overwhelming pain and disappointment. Why couldn’t I have just been born…female?
If you take anything out of my story, I want you to know that I was not an overtly “gay” or “queer” kid who naturally slid into being a woman. Many people felt like this came “out of nowhere,” and years of male socialization drilled me with butch affects, speech patterns, and perspectives. I had to learn about how to be a femme woman. I had to work to understand clothes, how to walk, how to talk, and so forth. These were things I learned, and as much as I probably looked silly or weird, I felt a sense of hope that I never could have imagined.
You might think people will hate you and reject you. Some will. I am not going to tell you otherwise. But you will be surprised how many people will see the light within you and accept you.
You are trans enough. You are not sick. You are not crazy. You are not bad. God does not hate you.
You have one life, and if you believe that you will live a happier, richer life as a man, as a woman, as a non-binary person, then why are you not living that life? There may be a cost. I lost a great deal in this journey, and I wish I would have
People will see the new you. You will make new friends. You will find people who will love you for who you are, and not in spite of it.
My down-to-earth, no-BS advice:
–If you are in any way dependent on your parents, and you have any reason to believe they might disown you or punish you an any way, make an escape plan. Think of at least three established adults who can help you with immediate resources if coming out to your parents goes poorly.
–If you are a teenager dependent on your parents, and you think you may be trans, I highly encourage you to not go to college right away: become financially independent, and then you can start your transition. Do not put yourself in a position where your parents can revoke your education. Consider getting a CDL, learning welding, getting a certificate in phlebotomy, any sort of plan that can make you wholly independent from your parents before you are 20. If you want to go back to college, when you are 24 you can file the FAFSA for yourself, and especially if you are not wealthy, your college costs will be far lower than if you went to college but were bound to aid based on your parents’ income, regardless if they were helping you or not.
–Get a hold of all your legal documents: birth certificate, passport, social security card, everything you might need.
–TSRoadmap.com is one of the best, most to-the-point resources you are going to find online.
–Find a good therapist who is recommended by the transgender community of your area.
–Go through a doctor to get hormones. Do not order them online. If you are really in a pinch, go to an informed-consent clinic.
–Be very careful who you tell at first. Avoid posting about this on social media if you have any reason to believe either your parents or employers might retaliate against you.
–Unless you work for an establishment that is overtly transgender affirming (e.g. an LGBT center, a gay bar, a queer coffee shop) do not come out at work until you are ready to go full-time. I highly recommend beginning your transition and slowly working on honing what you’ll need to go full-time, such as your voice, your gait, your wardrobe, and so forth, before you come out. If you have reason to believe that your job will not be affirming, you may want to look into other employment.
–Go to HR when you are looking to come out. Make sure everything is documented.
–Make new friends: go to queer events, go to queer-affirming churches and social organizations, volunteer, find yourself a supportive community, especially of people who have been there before you. Your family might disown you, your family and friends might just need a little time, but you need as much support as you can, especially in the early stages. I am reminded of two of my good friends came over to my apartment when I first moved out of my parents’ house, bringing with them a “Girl Starter Kit” with makeup, brushes, chocolate, a clutch purse, hair ties, facial cream, a Nicholas Sparks novel, and a sucker shaped like a dick. They helped me pluck my eyebrows for the first time and did my makeup. It was a baptism. Your chosen family will help you get through this.
–It’s ok to take it slow. I first called myself transgender when I was 18, and I did not start socially transitioning until I was 24. It took me 15 months between when I started coming out to my friends and family, and when I started hormones. At the time of writing, I have not yet begun laser hair removal. I don’t even own a big purse yet. Transitioning is beautiful, fun, exciting, enriching, and life-giving, but it’s often stressful and unexpected. Giving yourself time to learn what sort of person you are becoming can help you from becoming too overwhelmed.
–Enjoy this time. Yes, it’s really hard. If my story means anything, it’s how much I’ve had to sacrifice and go through to make it as a transgender woman in a world that wants to kill me. It’s all been worth it to finally live as the person I was meant to be. Transitioning is a second adolescence, and with all the pain is the overwhelming joy of getting to experience the whole world anew.
As per my dysphoria, I often wonder why God made us this way. I don’t have an answer to why we suffer. But even if I did have an answer, what solace would that provide? I do not believe we are broken, and I don’t believe we are cursed from The Fall of Man.
Why is it so hard to believe that maybe God created all sorts of different people, some of them would live their lives as both a man and a woman, or both, or neither, or somewhere in between? That some of us were meant to have a rich perspective and journey, and use that to help others?
We believe in a God who chose a desperate and unlikely people to be Her chosen ones.
We believe in a God who came to earth to walk among us as a lowly laborer of an oppressed and colonized group of people.
We believe in a God who tells us the meek will inherent the earth.
Is it that much of a stretch to believe that we are holy?
The Wilderness—My Coming Out Sermon for August 2, 2015 (Edited)
Good morning everybody. My name is Bren O–, or Brendan, as a lot of you might know me. I am a member of the Deaconess Anne House, which is an Episcopal Service Corps program. For the past year, I have been living in community with six other young adults in Old North. We all work in different non-profit placements in and around the city, and come together to worship and play together. My job placement has been with Christ Church Cathedral, and I have served as the digital missioner during this time.
As this is a one-year internship, the 2014-2015 class of Deaconess Anne House is coming to a close, and what a year it has been. During our year, there has been a change of directors, two housemates leaving, love & heartbreak, a total of seven arrests in Ferguson-related protests, and a squirrel infestation. I am a different person now than who I was when I hopped off the train, August 29th, 2014.
Our Old Testament reading helped me reflect on the great change that occurred within me this, and I would like to begin there.
Last Sunday, we heard the first part of the story of David and Bathsheba. David, the great king of the Unified Israel, saw Bathsheba bathing on her rooftop one night, and immediately was overcome with lust. Bathsheba is married to Uriah, who is a chief commanding officer in King David’s army, thus besides infidelity, this is a terrible political move. David carries on with his uncontrollable libido, and impregnates Bathsheba. I do not believe their act of coitus could possibly be considered consenting, especially with this kind of power imbalance at play. Wanting to hide his bastard child, David tries to get Uriah to go back home and copulate with his wife; Uriah refuses, as it’s war time, and he feels his duty draws him to stay with his troops. David, in a last-minute manuvoer, orders Uriah to join the front ranks, where he is later killed in battle.
In today’s reading, the prophet Nathan calls out David on his debauchery and wickedness, and David confesses that he has sinned against the Lord.
The Story of David appealed to me when I was younger, because I liked the idea that you could mess up, over and over again, and still be known and remembered as the great king of Israel. In this story, he’s guilty of infidelity, sexual abuse, voluntary manslaughter, and still gets to keep being king. Isn’t it great that God’s chosen people are flawed, complex characters, just like the rest of us?
Reading today’s Old Testament passage now, I am struck by a simple observation: Bathsheba is not named in the text. She is, “The wife of Uriah,” she is alluded to being viewed similarly to property in Nathan’s allegory about a sheep thief. The story ends with David confessing his sin, but we hear nothing about her mourning of the loss of her husband, or just the nature of David’s actions toward her.
Bathsheba, the woman of this story, is not given a voice or a perspective. Bathsheba is a victim.
In 2015, I read this story with an eye drawn to the marginalized and the silenced, and this is because of the experiences during my year being part of the Deaconess Anne House.
When I joined DAH, I flippantly told people that the primary reason I signed up was because I needed a job. That part was true, I needed a job, but I was also looking for a place to discern and make sense of my life. During my time living at the house, and working at a robust, affirming place like Christ Church Cathedral, I slowly began to recognize just how much pain and sadness I have bubbling just beneath the surface. So much of my personality, my mannerism were often ways to mitigate my discomfort and frustration. I felt alone, despite being by most accounts a hyper extravert. I felt confused, conflicted, uneasy, weak, afraid, and lost. This spring, for several weeks, all I could think about was death. Not suicide, but just dying. In that stretch, I could not imagine myself growing older, getting a career, settling down, and being happy. I couldn’t imagine anything after this.
This June, I went to my little brother’s high school graduation service, and I had an epiphany. It wasn’t new information, it was something I finally accepted something about myself that I’ve known to be true for a long time, but have suppressed, locked away, ignored, and even made fun of, because I didn’t know how to become the whole person that God created me to be.
I am transgender.
That is, the “T” in LGBT: I do not identify as a man, and I am seeking the medical and legal procedures to live as my true self, my gender identity, as a woman.
The classic line is, “I feel like a woman in a man’s body,” which is true, but doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story. Since I was very young, I have felt uncomfortable with my body, and awkward in men’s clothes, in men’s situations, with male activities.
I dated women, but I wasn’t attracted TO them, I wanted to BE them. And I turned out to be a terrible boyfriend, because I don’t identify as a boy.And even in my best suit, even in peak physical condition, even with a sharp haircut, everything just felt wrong. As I have lived into this truth, that base, visceral anger and confusion slowly faded away.
I go by the name “Bren,” and my pronouns are “She” and “Her.”
Now, in May of this year, I was offered a position as a digital communications specialist, a $33K position. Small change for an organization with a multimillion dollar endowment from Proctor of Proctor & Gamble, but for me, 33K and a job is what can make my life, for a 24-year-old transwoman with no car and $1800 in her bank account, who has been living the past three years on stipends from church positions.
After general election, I called the person who would have been my supervisor to ask a few questions, and I mentioned that I am transgender, and that I did not withhold that information during my interview.
Two days later, I received a phone call, telling me that my position was being rescinded because, allegedly, my background check included a negative review of my character from a former manager of mine, who claimed that I am “cynical, mean-spirited, and argumentative.”
I do not believe that is true.
Here I stand, two weeks until my internship ends, and I have no job, car, or long-term housing.
Who would have thought that just being yourself could be such a radical act?
Meditating on the text for this sermon, I thought, who do I see myself in this story? Is the my prospective employer King David, guilty of sin? Am I Nathan? And I am to call out the diocese for their deeds?
I identify with Bathsheba.
Additionally, let us not forget, the inciting event of this entire chain of events, was Bathsheba performing the ritual bath, the Mikhvah, to cleanse herself after the end of her menstrual cycle. She was following the Mosaic Law, when David entered the picture as a voyeur. She did everything right, and still suffered.
Victims. Our society doesn’t know how to deal with the idea of victims. We love punishing criminals and evil-doers, but we just don’t seem to be able as a culture to accept that some people can do everything right, and by no fault of their own, pain and loss are inflicted on them for no discernible reason. Let’s set our Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglers, and Marianne Williamsons, and acknowledge the brute truth: there is so much pain and suffering in the world, and the vast majority of it has nothing to do with your personal conduct and attitude, but with factors beyond your control. Your race, social class, gender identity, and sexual orientation are all things that you had no control over, and yet they are a far, far better determiner of your life than anything else.
Bathsheba is the victim, but we focus on David, because we want to see sinners repent, we want to see justice, or retribution, in the world, even if it means we sideline the victims.
This is the greatest question of all religions: why do we suffer, and what do we do about it?
I believe there is hope in today’s reading.
In the Gospel, we see Jesus being classic Jesus; he’s elusive, speaks in odd metaphor, and confuses his disciples. In the past gospel, Jesus feeds the 5000 with a few fish and loaves, then disappears across the lake. Here, the people follow him, and Jesus makes a stark comment: You have come, not because you have seen miracles, but because I you have been fed.
As a contemporary reader, it’s easy to think what made Jesus “Jesus” was how he could perform miracles. But something to consider is that “Signs & wonders” seem to have been a common feature at that time. Lots of people make miracles; the courts of Pharaoh & Nebuchadnezzar were filled with Magicians, soothsayers, fortune tellers, and sorcerers.
So these people, hungry, broken, and afraid, followed this Jesus, who somehow was able to feed them. Now, it might be that Jesus performed a miracle, manipulating matter to allow the fish and loaves to multiply. Or maybe Jesus gathered thousands of desperate, hungry people, and probably a few rich ones, got them to share their supplies. Regardless, it was so powerful, they follow him across the lake to learn more.
To put it simply, these people recognized Jesus as a savior, because he was literately offering them sustenance. He was their hope, in that day, in that moment.
Now, listen to the metaphor in this reading: “I am the bread of life,” I am manna. Manna: the substance God gave the Israelites to eat during the 40 years they wandered in the desert. It will keep you alive, however, it’s bland, terribly bland, and you have to harvest it every day, or else it goes bad overnight.
During this time of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites speak of the land past the river Jordan, the Land promised to them by their forefather Abraham, the Land of Canaan, the Land of Milk and Honey. Contrast that with the bread of life.
Jesus Christ compares himself to Manna, and not Milk & Honey, but Manna. Jesus is comparing himself to the substance people ate in the wilderness. I think Jesus is telling us that our trials, our suffering is real. We are in the wilderness, and we are striving to get to that Promised Land, to find salvation. And salvation is as real as the air we breathe.
I am in the wilderness. Besides being unemployed in two weeks, and without a permanent address, I am a pre-everything transwoman. Transitioning itself takes a few years. I am in the desert, and I need manna to survive.
Bathsheba is in the wilderness. Her life and well-being are ripped away from her, and the text treats her as an afterthought in a story about David’s hubris. She is a victim, and I join her in the desert. She needs manna to survive.
Moreover, this city is in the wilderness. Next week marks the murder of Michael Brown, and the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. The revolution, as it turns out, will not be lead by white socialists with horn-rimmed glasses and dog-eared copies of Das Kapital Vol. 1. It will live on twitter and livestream, on the streets, and be led by young, black, queer women. And it will reveal our nation’s true colors. We have a long, long way to go. We all are in the desert, and we all need manna to survive.
What is this manna? That is supposed to keep us alive in the desert? Manna is not a literate bread, it is the community, the Body of Christ.
The Body of Christ is a community of hope. A community of people walking through the desert, suffering every ill imaginable of transphobia, sexism, racism, nationalism, ableism, economic and environmental exploitation, and all because we know that another world is possible. This Land of milk and honey is not a far off place, it’s not in some distant heaven long after we are dead, this is something promised to us.
And we might not see this land in our lifetime. After all, Moses, the greatest of the prophets, walked the entire 40 years with his people, and died just before the Israelites crossed the Jordan.
And yet, we pray every day for our daily bread, our manna, for the strength to carry on, to fight the oppressive forces, to undermine and challenge the empires and states that dehumanize us. One more day in the desert, one more day, striving to get to that land of Milk & Honey, where everybody will be loved and accepted because of who they are, not in spite of it.
We are only able to survive by manna. And our greatest job in life is to be manna, to be the force of life, and hope, and belovedness in our community.
I don’t know where I’m going to be in one month, in one year, but I do believe in this daily bread, this community of the beloved to help sustain me. Most of all, I know that there is a world-to-come, a world promised to us by our God, the God of Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel, and I am so excited for the day when I will meet every one of you there.
1Incidentally, three of the four women I had slept with now identify as queer.
2“But Bren,” the disingenuous question-asker may pose, “What if my culture defines gender as a biological caste, irrevocably linked to one’s biological sex? Then there can be no transpeople! They will always be the biological sex they were born!”
To this I respond, “In that case, your culture is stupid and wrong.” I’m not a moral or cultural relativist, some cultural practices, many in fact, are terrible, oppressive, and anathema to human flourishing. This is not to say that people in a cultural are bad, or that colonizers are justified in invading countries to end their “savage ways,” but I will not back down in saying that gender oppressive binary cultures are bad, and genital mutilation of every strip (whether in Somalia or to Intersex children in Chicago), foot binding, sex trafficking, cults of girls’ virginities, not vaccinating your children, and sending your transgender kids to conversation camp are examples of moral failure.
3This probably was most evident when I ended my initial plan to not shave for Lent two days in, when I realized I would rather stop drinking alcohol than give up shaving.
4When I was deep into my Ron Paul phase and certainly not listening to any Left-leaning or conservative sources, no less!
5Almost immediately, my brother stopped using direct address or pronouns to me. Two years after coming out to him, he sent me a postcard while on vacation, addressed to “Bren.” I immediately cried.
6I sincerely wonder if I am the first person to come out as transgender via sermon in the state of Missouri.
7Assigned Female At Birth
8Transmen’s voices change with HRT, as testosterone lengthen’s one’s vocal cords.