Our dysphoria should not be the reason we are denied employment, but the reason that our voices should be heard
I have had some amazing experiences recently that has placed my trans self at the centre of my public identity, and it has been colossally liberating. Euphoria is the feeling that many trans people have expressed to me, and it is now something I better understand, as this joy running through me stems from that.
This feeling of joy has been in part fed by me living in ways that are increasingly true to myself, to my identity as a non-binary person, but has also been fed by the positive reactions and even non-reaction of people that I have met when overtly dressed in ways that make it impossible to deny how I feel inside.
My closest friend was visiting me for a few days recently and it was really great to just pal around and be me and free. As I explore my gender and how that translates into self-expression, it is nice to have people around who do not judge, and thus create the space for me to breathe.
She and I spoke on many topics, about life and our loves and passions and challenges. One topic was language, and certain words and whether it is acceptable to use them, and how being “politically correct” was at times hard to keep up with. Indeed, it is also hard to know how what is “politically correct” changes and who and how such changes are arbitrated.
My friend decried “mob rule”—my words, not hers, in the increasingly virulent debate between some cis women and some trans women. I had to see this through my own lens as she also saw her perspective through her life as a well-adjusted, open-minded, enlightened cis woman. We got onto this via something I said, which was how deeply fulfilling it would be for me to take up a board seat in my industry, a completely male-dominated industry, and to be joyously out.
Her reaction to the idea was pained. She lamented how rotten it was that a man who has declared himself transgender should find himself on a board—that even as a trans person I had more privilege. She lamented that even now, women’s equality seems to be getting bypassed in favour of being more inclusive.
I understand what she is saying on many levels, but it also struck me as wrong. First, one of the primal fears that many trans people have is that being trans means being shut out of the job market. This is why so many of us end up in fields where our “freakishness” does not offend or is an asset: sex work, retail, beauty, computing, writing. Looking at my own life through this lens, one of the main reasons I have not transitioned is that I fear that to do so would destroy my ability to provide for my family—that I would become unemployable. So, for me, having a board seat in my industry would be the ultimate validation that it is okay to be trans.
Second, we can easily look at how women have been denied equality and recognise how awful that is, and how it is still very much with us, and not see that the rights of one group (ie. that a trans person getting a board seat is somehow hurting a woman’s chances for that same seat) interfering with those of another group. But this is true of minority groups too (I am making the distinction here that women are not a statistical minority even if as a block women are discriminated against both passively and actively). In other words, the marginalised people of society should not be fighting over the few seats at the table that have been allocated to them, but instead, fighting together to make sure that everyone has a fair shot at all of the seats.
What I mean is that (and I hate to say it, but in the main this is white men), equality of opportunity is not about one oppressed group competing against another, but about ensuring that all of the seats are available. And I am reminded how affirmative action is such an emotionally charged topic, regardless of which group is being seen to have benefited from it. We might say that the opportunities should go to the most qualified candidate. And few would argue with that as an ideal. And it would be horrible to say that affirmative action might mean you turn down a qualified white male in favour of someone who is less qualified for the sake of equality. While that narrative serves nobody, it is one that is surely felt by those whose privilege is being eroded. If we were to accept for a moment that this is possibly true, it ignores two key factors. First, that diversity in itself is a huge asset—if I come from a different place than my colleagues because of religion, race, creed, sexuality, then I have an ability to add to the discussion that goes way beyond my difference in those specific areas, but rather that my existence has been different, the lens I see the world through is different, and this diversity is what enriches the group. And this may be hard to measure, but it is an undeniable (and proven) way to enhance group output.
The second area is related to the first as we contemplate going from a straight cis male-dominated white experience to a rainbow, we have to recognise that change is both painful, but it is also necessary to force it or inertia creeps in and change stalls. This dominate trope of straight white male patriarchy is self-reinforcing, because the privilege and access begin at birth. If two people achieve the same things in life but one had to fight for everything, every step of the way, in the face of resistance, and the other had it all handed to him at birth, don’t we respect the fighter more? What is equally qualified in that context? Surely the journey counts too.
Affirmative action and diversity policies are necessary because they force change to happen. And until a future rainbow baby is born into a world where every opportunity is as available to him/her/they as it is for a white male, we have to forcibly pry this case of privilege open and make the world more accessible.
My response to my friend is to acknowledge that feminism very much has its place, and that we all have a duty to help our sisters find their seat at the table, but their seat has nothing to do with taking a seat away from a gay, a trans, a non-white…it is not a zero-sum game.
Cis women and trans women getting along
And I can hear all of you nodding in agreement, of course it should be thus, and yet, there is a virulent debate raging between what appear to me to be fairly extreme cis women and equally extreme trans women. Indeed, trans issues, or at least the fears that are sparked by them (sports, bathrooms, etc) are so out of proportion to how many people they affect. It is a political hot potato, largely because it is such a flash point for the conservative white male and their allies.
I don’t want to point fingers because the virulence of that debate would not be welcome here, but there is one website in particular I subscribe to that is written by straight white women and which produces some really vile polemic about trans people. My friend and I got onto this topic because she felt that it was not safe for her as a woman to discuss gender equality issues without fear of being trolled by trans extremists. Academia has seen some pretty virulent examples—who is allowed to speak on campuses for instance, or JK Rowling and the growing movement to boycott Harry Potter and her other works for her views on trans women.
As for me, I am perplexed by the extreme views and the virulence and saddened that we as a society cannot figure this out in an enlightened and gentle manner, having open dialogue, without going down each other’s throats. But at the same time, and as with affirmative action, I understand the need to force the issues, because without the extreme cases, we will never move the centre point.
I dream of a day where we can all live and let live and celebrate our diversity. There should be nothing alarming about someone who feels that their body doesn’t correspond to their sense of self, and that they choose to make changes to it so that they can come into a state of personal harmony and equilibrium. The cost of not doing so is born out in so many ways: trans people have some of the highest suicide rates of any group—the sense of hopelessness that comes with dysphoria is real and crushing [blogged about here].
Why should being trans mean that my judgement or perspective is any less valuable than a cis man’s? And yes, the converse is true, but my voice should be just as heard, especially in male dominated spaces.
The clothes make the man (or non-binary or woman)
I was recently in a large group setting for a yoga retreat, my first time doing such a thing, and on the first evening I felt really uncomfortable, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. And I was dressed “male”—never mind that even most of my male clothes are actually female clothes, but ones that might be associated with the male—jeans, work shirt, work boots. And I was meeting new people and interacting with men and women and being perceived and related to in ways that had to do with how they saw me. And it was making me feel uncomfortable—I remember a woman who got up and moved when I sat near here and I felt as if she felt that I was coming onto her—in other words, she was perceiving my energy in ways that I was not expressing it, because she was seeing me different than how I am.
But I also realised that I had a similar feeling in a different way from the men there—that they were engaging with me man-to-man, and that also felt odd. And I realised that even though there were slightly more women there than men, the space was the most male space I have been in for several years, and it was making me uncomfortable.
I almost never wear dresses, but I put one on for dinner. And that simple act brought me into harmony with the women present, including that particular woman (who I later learned was using yoga as a way to heal sexual trauma), but also the men. Everyone there engaged with me naturally, and this was deeply affirming. And part of me feels that I have a duty to dress so as to create space for others who are younger, so that they find the courage, but also to challenge long-held assumptions. Yes, through my clothes I want you to feel dissonance if you are stuck in this cis white male worldview.
[As an aside, one of the other topics I discussed with my friend is how different racial groups have reacted to me dressed, how men and women react differently, how gays react…and while my statistics are anecdotal, the experiences and observations expressed in this earlier blog post remain very much in force]. And yes, you guessed it, older white men appear most shocked by my appearance, followed by older white women, but the young, bless them, generally respond positively.
Finding What it Means to be Out
I am an active observer and occasional participant on the many lively threads on Twitter around trans issues. Especially the quirky and funny ones. There are some topics that come up often and that seem germaine:
- The desire to “pass” as transgender is powerful and venerated—the trope of female beauty is felt even more acutely I feel than it is in teen girl circles ravaged by insecurities, bulimia, etc.
- Anger at being dead-named, anger at being mis-pronoun-ed is felt as if it is a negation of identity [and perhaps it is]. This is taken to an extreme, as if my fellow trans sisters are looking for people to do this.
I don’t know yet exactly what form my transgender identity will take. I don’t know how I will evolve. I could not answer my wife’s question—”will you have a sex change?”—because I don’t know. But I also know that I don’t care if a nephew refers to me as an Aunt or an Uncle, and I would feel the same way if I had breasts and no longer had male sex organs. I will never stop being my children’s father, and it would be deeply sorrowful for me to be regarded by them as something different. I am not their mother; I am their father. No matter what. And I don’t care if someone says “he” to me or calls me “sir” when I am dressed or at any other time, actually I rather like it. I am not offended by it, even were they to mean it or say it with a sneer. They never do. In fact, I do like it.
I also respect that a trans person who is fully transitioned or has started on that path, will feel differently. Please see it from their perspective—that this process of transition is to correct something they feel is an egregious wrong and the process is designed to bring them into harmony with themselves, and that to deadname them or mis-gender them is hurtful, even abusive—particularly given what they have gone through to take the step: social stigma, loss of income, rejection, alienation, permanent “outsider” status, physical pain, immense cost…I get all that and honour it, but it isn’t me. And it might have been were I pre-pubescent today, and able to make a change and to be “fully” integrated as female. But that is no longer possible, and my trans self is no longer female but has become non-binary and one that openly embraces both feminine and masculine aspects, and it feels really good. But what works for me is not going to work for someone else.
Is it still okay to use the word “transvestite”?
My friend and I got on this whole topic of affirmative action and how she felt that trans women were eating into her opportunities as a cis white woman because I used the word transvestite. She told me that the word “transvestite” was no longer safe to use. I don’t know if that is the case. I certainly feel that “cross-dressing”, another way to say the same thing, is a problematic term. The concept of gendered clothing is politically suspect, and I love how people like Alok [degender fashion] are speaking out about this and living beautifully out lives.
But I also have to acknowledge that there are men who become aroused by wearing women’s clothing. There is a whole enormous branch of kink around forced cross-dressing, forced sissification. Its opposite does not exist. I have blogged about this form of arousal, and how it puzzled me as my own relationship to women’s clothing has never been one of arousal, but one of identity and comfort. And in that sense the distinction between a transvestite (who is titillated by it) and a transgender person (who simply finds comfort in the feeling and symbolism of it) to me remains valid. At least to me.
And I write about men in this instance because it seems to be only men who become aroused by clothes of the opposite sex. For women, there is no stigma or shame in wearing men’s clothes. But even back 100 years ago when it was illegal for women to wear trousers, I doubt that there were women who were sexually aroused by wearing “men’s” clothes. What is going on here? Women dressing male was a form of taking power, claiming power, claiming their right to sit at the table. Men dressing female was a symbol of relinquishing, and it remains so, which is why it remains troubling, especially to other men, who might regard it as a betrayal. And though I regard the fetishization of clothing distinct from transgender issues, both seem to trigger cis men and women in the same way—that they find this “blurring” as threatening—though it is hard to understand why it is only when men seek to escape the male trope and less so when women seek to do so.
My friend brought up RuPaul and drag and wanted to see if RuPaul self-identified as a transvestite. It seemed that Drag Queen and gay were more apt after a quick google search of RuPaul’s online presence. But even this style and gay icon has been caught up in the trans controversy as he recently stated that transgender people who had started to transition were not welcome as participants on his show, thus underlining the camp, theatrical distinction between being a Drag Queen and being transgender. If you are interested, take a look online, because here is RuPaul completely caught in the crosshairs of the gender debate, but on the side of the status quo—he has been absolutely blasted by the trans community. And I have to say I agree with the criticisms.
Like my wife, I have difficulty with the Drag Queen camp representation of women, as I find it disrespectful. I do accept that it is an art form, and a kind of theatrical representation, but it doesn’t sit entirely well with me because I think it makes fun of femininity and fetishizes “bitchiness” or “cattiness”.
Where I feel I am landing
I don’t wear make-up. At least not yet. And if I were to, it would be very mild, almost unnoticeable. I would regard it as a way to enhance and soften, not disguise or change. I don’t wear wigs for the same reason. I look good as a man. I am not ashamed of how I look, only I think I look better as a feminine man than as one who emphasises masculinity.
Mistress recently asked me to talk to her about my body, and how it done good for me…and I had to admit that my body has saved my life. I am blessed in that my body reflects my non-binary nature. It is not muscular, and small boned…and this is still true, and was even true when I was a competitive athlete…I don’t get big from working out. And that has quite literally saved my life. To have been able to slip into a dress or a skirt and have it look good, not just as a guy in a dress or a skirt, but for it to fit, is something which has been sustaining for me my whole life.
My wife asked me, “who do you think you look good to?” And my answer was to myself, and truthfully, nothing else matters. But I do feel that I look my best when I wear a mix of men’s and women’s clothes that fit me well and are stylish. And this can be overtly challenging to our norms, but it feels right to me. And when it feels right to me, I have a range of self-expression which is liberating—not constrained, flirtatious with the world.
Breaking my shell
I am still learning about terminology in the trans community, but this expression of being reborn and breaking out of our shell is one that makes sense to me now that it has happened. I increasingly feel that I do not wish to express myself any other way than as fully non-binary, and find myself gradually re-ordering my life.
But there are still people that I have a harder time with. Easiest are strangers. Moving to a new place and just being out from the start is a great way to make a transition easier. The downside to that is having a posse of friends. Thankfully the posse of therapists is a collection of reassuring voices. Family is the hardest. Too many expectations, resentments, shared history, that make being this kind of vulnerable to not a prospect I look forward to.
Same for work colleagues. That worries me the most, and what the knock-on effect could be on my career. While people might be polite and enlightened to my face, who knows what they might say and think behind my back.
I’m doing some construction work now, and I haven’t wanted to freak out my builders, so have a whole “work” outfit that is seemingly male. But the other day I bumped into one of my contractors on the street of the city I am coming out in, and it made me realise it is just a matter of time (I was dressed in said builder-friendly outfit at the time), and that was both scary and disappointing to me. And while I didn’t want to jeopardize the working relationship, I even more didn’t want to feel constrained in my freedom to dress and be as I please in my new home, so felt that I needed to come to terms with this.
In the end, while I was barrelling around with my friend, we went to visit one of the job sites together. But I was wearing a super-cute skirt and showing a lot of leg. And from there, I went to settle an invoice with one of the contractors I am using, and this is a huge firm, a business with hundreds of employees. And I was standing there in their reception area and certainly being noticed…And then the owner came out. A semi-retired, self-made man, 65+, white, and I said, “now you get to meet the rest of me,” and he didn’t bat an eye lid, but offered to show me around the building. He took me to every office and introduced to all of his employees, he took me into his warehouse and showed me the operation. And afterwards, we stood outside as his fleet of trucks were coming and going and talked about me buying his company. And I have to say that it was the most joyous moment in a beautiful day, because for the first time in my life, I actually felt that it might be possible to be me and to do what I do for a living and that it will work.
Coming out to friends
I find myself coming around to the idea of coming out completely, though I feel this as a gradual opening. And I think about my close friends and which ones to tell in which ways, as it strikes me that they will all react differently. Some reactions I will likely not care for, but others I think will open and deepen our friendships. I look forward to it.
I am particularly wondering about how my male friends will react. I don’t have as many male friends as female friends as it is, and I am certain 100% of the support of my female friends. But somehow, there is a sexual aspect that creeps into interactions with men…and it is not one that comes from me, but is more one I fear and am vigilant about.
The fear is that a man might go from seeing me as a non-sexual being (I am using that as shorthand for a typical two straight male friends relationship)—ie, he doesn’t look at me as a potential sex partner (and I am reminded of how so many male-female friendships are affected by sexual energy and how difficult it is to remain platonic at times)—to looking at me as a sexual being. That male touch could be inappropriate. And this is not an uncommon fear. Somehow, some men interpret being trans as being gay, or being open to advances, and that is just as creepy for me as it would be for a woman receiving predatory attention, because that is what it is. The air changes.
I guess navigating this landscape is what women have contended with since the dawn of time.
An Important thank you
I have not been writing so much about my dynamic with Mistress so much lately (or that much at all, frankly) because many readers are interested in other things. D/s is not my life, though it is a very important part of it, as is she.
The first time we “played” together, we went to dinner afterwards and talked about life and stuff. And I asked her what her goals and motivations would be in relation to having a dynamic with me were. Her response was to see me grow [I am not using her expression for it or the process because those are personal words that I feel belong to her]. And although we almost never talk about gender or being trans and have never incorporated any gender aspects into our play, it is very clear to me that my growth path in relation to coming out is entirely thanks to the strength I have gained from our dynamic.
For those of you out there who are to the right of the slash and in loving dynamics with a Master or Mistress, especially one who takes an active and caring interest in your well-being and development [as any good Master would do], you will know exactly what I mean. For those of you who might regard D/s with faint amusement or some other emotion, please just take from this the extraordinary sustenance and strength it can provide when engaged in with an open heart and a sense of responsibility.
Thank you Mistress from the bottom of my heart.
I am transgender. I can say it out loud now, and whenever it feels natural to do so, I will. I want people to see the gender spectrum, and to know its variety. I want to hang the transgender flag from my house.
People will react to me and to my energy in reflection to the energy I put out. My confidence will make them feel at ease. I am not looking for conflict or judgement, simply ease and acceptance.
Mistress has played a vital role, though completely indirect, and not even understood, in me shifting from fear to confidence in this regard.
My dream in this is acceptance, and the only way to be accepted is to be how I really am and feel. I look forward to telling my friends (not quite wanting to tell my family). I am imagining the joy of telling them.
I want my wife to stay with me and love me. Our relationship sure would be better if she can find a way to not just grudgingly accept, but to embrace this.
Affirmative action is necessary because it takes formal correction to address deep-seated prejudice and being transgender is to place oneself in the cross-hairs of intolerance. I am transgender, and I am non-binary…I have no desire to pass, but to be as beautiful and easy as I can in my border zone between male and female. I like touch: to be touched and to touch [wow, this is new].
I am alive.