The Indestructable Trans Rep

Around a year ago, I lost my mental health battle and had a hard break from reality. You know, like the kind where you feel like you’re on cloud nine and in hell all at once. It was terrifying for me, and terrifying for those around me, I’m sure. Lots of people have embellished what happened (cause I guess it’s cool now to have a “crazy person” story), but what it came down to was that I cut open my wrist (to the bone!!!) and got to spend more than a month in a psych ward getting on mood stabilizers. Pretty intense, huh?

Zip back a couple of months, though, and one of the things that kept me from admitting, even to myself, that something was off was being a transgender activist. Okay, yeah, leadership roles and such have that effect on people, but even more so in this particular role. You see, nearly every day, I faced the argument that me being transgender was a mental illness. Even within the trans community itself, I got a lot of flack for being a non-binary identified person. It was like not choosing a side of the binary automatically labeled me as unstable.

So as soon as I had any symptoms of actually being unstable, I didn’t go to a counselor. I couldn’t even begin to admit that it wasn’t normal or okay that I wasn’t sleeping for days at a time. And maybe, you know, the paranoid delusions I had about everyone being out to get me weren’t that far off. People were out to get me; or people like me. Violence happens to trans people and visibly queer people every day. But more importantly, I didn’t need one more thing to invalidate who I was for other people.

In a lot of activism, accusations of the other side being “insane” or “delusional” are quick and common cheap shots, but the way they’re met speaks volumes about how activists respect mental illness. Which is wild when you think about how many people, especially in marginalized communities, suffer from mental illness! How can anyone jump back and staunchly deny any mental health issue, like admitting a mental illness is admitting that your viewpoint and your identity isn’t valid?

Of course, these days, I’m faced with the same argument; the idea that I’m mentally ill or sick because of the way I identify. And so what? I have a mental illness. And you know what? I’m still trans and I’m still valid.

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Five Things No One Told Me About Being Genderqueer in the Trans Community

If you’re like me and you’ve questioned your gender all your life, you know the thrill of finding a word that describes you. Or, hey, even gets close.

I started out as identifying as genderfluid, then as a trans man (a rough patch in my life where I wore pants all. Year. Long.), and finally back to just a vague “eh, guess I’m genderqueer. Watch me wing my eyeliner and not shave my legs” type state.

For a lot of trans people in my life, I’m pretty confusing. Especially for those who have known they are a man or a woman their entire life, it’s pretty difficult to wrap their head around. Sometimes, this means a lot of questions, or it means an interrogation. Which leads to my first thing no one told me when I came out:

  1. Knowing your gender since the day you were born is not a requirement! No matter the gender, it can take a lot of time to figure out who you really are, and then, what it means to be you. For a lot of binary (men and women) trans people, there is so much pressure to ┬áhave absolute certainty at all times…and this pressure gets turned on non-binary identities quite a bit, which is never a fun feeling.
  2. Just because someone is trans, it does not mean they are accepting of or even aware of genderqueer identities. I used to get really excited when I met another trans person, kind of considering them one of my “people.” But as it turns out, being a non-binary identity is a minority within a minority.
  3. You don’t have to display your gender “correctly” to get anyone’s (even another trans person’s!) approval. I used to get this a lot, because I tend to be more androgynous; people would tell me that they didn’t think some other non-binary person’s gender was valid, but mine was definitely real, because they could tell by looking at me. Excuse me, what? At first, I was naively flattered, but then I began to challenge it, after I realized that they were basing the entire validity of my gender on whether or not I looked like a good “mix” of male and female. The implication? That my gender wasn’t as real as being a man or a woman, both of which don’t need to wear specific things to be a valid concept. Can you imagine walking up to a woman and telling her that all the other women were probably just pretending to be women, but she was a real woman because she’s wearing a dress?
  4. Not every trans group is going to be inclusive, and you shouldn’t waste your time with a group that doesn’t include you. Sounds like a no brainer, right? But not including you doesn’t just mean a space where there’s “No NBs allowed!!” or something to that tune. Rather, some groups are more subtle; all the topics are about binary trans issues, discussions seem to value the binary experience more than other trans experiences (if you feel like you can’t chime into a discussion because you’re NB or genderqueer, you’re probably experiencing this!) and the leadership looks at you like you’ve grown a second head when you mention your gender identity. You may be in a space where you’re not aggressively unincluded, but if they’re not willing to make room for you and value you, then they’re not NB inclusive. You’ll end up spending your time in this group quietly listening, as opposed to being a full fledged member.
  5. You don’t have to be the sole educator or spokesperson for all NB people! Many non-binary identified people fall into this trap within trans groups and communities. It’s easy to feel like you have a duty to make the space you’re in NB inclusive, but that doesn’t have to be on you. As a young NB person with a lot of public speaking experience, I’ve often been asked to be on panels to “represent” the gender non-conforming crowd. This was fantastic, of course, but after being the only genderqueer person invited time and again, I’ve started to redirect to other NB people I know, so that there’s a wealth of identities being presented, and I’m not the sole spokesperson for how to be non-binary (I’m not exactly the only way to be genderqueer or non-binary, after all!).

I’m sure there are a million other things I would’ve liked to know before I embarked on this particular journey, but these are just a few of the ones I noticed that would have been nice to know going in.