A friend of mine is a young transgender man. I offered him this space to say anything he wanted to cisgender people, that is, to people who identify with the gender of the body they were born with—as opposed to transgender people, who do not. (I, for instance, am a cisgender male, because I was born a straight male and have always contentedly identified as just that. But if, despite my man’s body, I felt like a woman, and so wanted to live as a woman, I’d be transgender. More on why I very carefully chose this definition in my comment here.)
Below is what my friend had to say.
You know how easy it is be a “real” man or woman? All you have to do is look the right way. Or at least that’s the impression I get from cisgender people.
Do you know who the cisgender people are? Well, I know who you are. One thing I know about you, for instance, is that care a very great deal about clothes. Also about makeup, hair, facial hair, fingernails, and the size of a person’s hands.
I couldn’t care less about any of those things. But what do I know? I’m confused. I’m evil. I’m ill. I’m deluded. I’m depraved. I’m disgusting.
I forget that I am those things. I forget it frequently. I forget it because I just get so busy getting up in the morning, showering, eating breakfast, making my bed, grabbing my keys, and heading outside. You know. Into public. Where you are.
But you cisgender people are always so gracious about reminding me of who I am, and who I should be. Again and again you patiently explain to me why I can’t be called by the name I’ve chosen for myself, why I can’t use—and why you certainly will not use—the pronouns that fit me.
Over and over you remind me of who I “really” am. Who I was “born as.” You make your case very admirably, sometimes complete with photos and legal documents.
I’m impressed by your conscientiousness! In every word, action, and gesture—in your very body posture—you make it clear that you’d rather talk to an animated doll than to me, the person standing right in front of you. Thank you. We can all use such affirming reminders from time to time, such acceptance and understanding, such love.
Can we talk about genitals? You all are really on top of that! You must start this biology stuff early—though I know to you it’s hardly a complicated matter. Penis equals man; vagina equals woman. How simple is that?
And here I am all the while, wondering why you never mention that what makes a person who they are isn’t their body. It’s their mind, their heart, their spirit. It’s their hobbies, their memories, their dreams, their passions, their beliefs. It’s their relationships. It’s how they like their coffee. It’s how they like their tea.
It’s who they are, not how they look.
My partner of two years is also transgender. She has the longest eyelashes, the longest hair. I brush it for her. I love her voice, the way it relaxes around my name. I love to softly kiss her hands. I love opening her up, layer by layer, and delighting in what I find. With her, I feel safe.
I worry for her well-being, as all partners do.
It’s only human to get upset and afraid, right? As a caring person yourself, you understand that. That knot in the pit of your stomach when the person you love is late coming home, that tightening in your chest when they are supposed to call but don’t, the panic that rushes in after you think what might have happened to your beloved if they got caught alone somewhere.
Or maybe they weren’t caught alone. Maybe what happened to them didn’t happen in a dark alley. Maybe it happened on a busy sidewalk, while people stood and watched.
I, as a perverted and morally deformed being, continue to “cross-dress.”
I would like to have medical treatment to help me feel more comfortable in my body. I would like to one day file paperwork that reflects my change in status, that legally secures the identity I know to be mine.
I want to go to school. I want to work. I want to have a family. I want to sit in a room full of people being no one but myself.
I want to live unafraid.
There’s a fix for all of my fears and desires, of course, should reasoning with me fail to deliver me to my senses. There are so many ways, it turns out, to erase a mistake, correct a failing, eliminate an undesirable person. There is shooting, stabbing, running over with cars, beating, kicking, dragging from the back of a pick-up truck, whipping, strangling, dousing with gasoline and setting aflame.
And don’t forget sexual assaulting! That always adds that special flavor of abject humiliation.
Mix and match to your taste.
Go at it.
If all this makes you feel squeamish, I apologize. I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable. And don’t worry, the senseless slaughtering of transgender people doesn’t happen all that often. And when it does it can be hidden out of the way.
If you personally would never hurt anyone because you’re simply not that kind of person, then please be certain to let me know when someone else does murder one of my transgender brothers or sisters. Do not fail to describe to me exactly how the victim died. (And do I even need to remind you of the bonus points you get if no one wanted to claim the body? Of course I don’t.)
And please don’t worry if, when telling me of the tragedy, you let a little gleam of malicious joy appear in your eye. I won’t notice it. Promise.
Finally, do not neglect to communicate to me, however subtly, that the death of a transgender person don’t really matter anyway.
And then happily go on your way, content in the knowledge that I have been duly instructed and warned.
And before you leave, be sure to tell me again that you love me.