From a young transgender man: “Tell me again that you love me.”

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.

Go crazy.

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.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Morgan Gould

    Okay, John, good for providing this space to your friend. And I’m sure you’ll soon get up to speed on the many issues confronting transgender and gay people. You might start by learning that gender identity and sexual identity have nothing to do with each other. If you want to address gender identity, then you would say I was born identifying as a male, and remain identified as a male. You would not, addressing transgender people, say you were born ‘straight’. Not relevant.

    • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

      Morgan: But I wasn’t born identifying as a male. No infant is born “identifying” as anything. (Please trust I’m completely “up to speed on the many issues confronting transgender and gay people.” I understand the difference between gender and sexual identity. And in trying to QUICKLY explain what “cisgender” means by using myself as an an example of a cisgender male, it’s reasonable for me to mention that I’m straight, because a straight male is a gender normative male, and being “gender normative” [a phrase I carefully avoided using] is part of what being cisgender is.

      You try writing a succinct definition of the word “cisgender” that’s comprehensive, readily understandable to people who have no idea what the word means, and doesn’t leave someone somewhere an opportunity to complain about it. Lemme know how that goes.)

      • lauramarie

        Indeed. I know it’s difficult for everyone not to get defensive since so many are hurting where this issue is concerned. Thank you, John, for allowing your friend to speak so openly about what they experience. I have, on more than one occasion, accidentally used the wrong pronoun when referring to a transgender friend. But, I’m lucky that I have forgiving friends who know where my heart is and that it’s for them not against them. The vocabulary is difficult for some to grasp. I hope we can all be patient with each other in such things and stand up for each other where laws, personal safety and human rights are concerned.

        • Jill

          And that’s the space where allies become powerful advocates and make changes that last. Well said, lauramarie.

          • lauramarie

            <3

          • Becky Wiren

            If I have a friend who wants to be “she” or “he,” that is what I will call my friend.

      • David_Weintraub

        Ok. My recommended language is a little different. It’s not accurate to say that a person is “born as” one gender and then “identifies as” another gender. The neurological gender you were born with doesn’t change, whether you are trans or cis. Trans people are *assigned* the wrong gender, not born as it.

        I think that you intend “born as” to be synonymous with “genitals looked like.” That’s the basis for the assignment of gender, but it’s the assignment itself that’s wrong and so it should be the thing that’s noted. It’s no one’s fault – but it’s the thing that’s wrong. The distinction is important because to say that someone is “born as” a gender strongly implies that the gender they were assigned is the “real” or biologically authentic one, and that just isn’t accurate. It encourages confusion about trans people being deceptive or pretending to be something they really aren’t, a misconception people are already primed for. It’s important to be really clear about it, IMO.

        • anakinmcfly

          Times like this I wish that there were a term to accurately describe the physically-sexed state of one’s body at birth. ‘Assigned as’ sort of works, but doesn’t have that same biological concreteness. It also doesn’t provide any room for intersex people who were assigned a gender they were happy with, but who did not have a normative body for that gender, and who might thus share certain experiences with trans people with regards body dysphoria.

          • David_Weintraub

            “Assigned as” is just an indirect description of a person’s external genitalia at birth (in most cases), since there’s usually no reason to look further. In reality it’s not possible to accurately describe the physically-sexed state of anyone’s body at birth because you can’t observe the structure of their brain or ask them about their subjective experience of that brain.

            This drives me around the bend. The brain is part of the physical body, in fact it’s the *only part of the body that actually determines gender*, yet the language people use to try and explain this medical condition tends to ignore it completely, categorizing a person’s reproductive organs as “biological sex” while substituting something non-physical like “mind” or “identity” for the person’s physical brain.

            I also do not use the term “gender identity,” at least not without explanation that it is a misleading term. Unless we are talking about some qualified term like “social gender” or “legal gender,” there is no distinction between “gender identity” and simply…gender. In other words, people don’t have a gender “identity” that is different from their actual, real, *biological* (because: Brain) gender.

            That is as concrete as it gets, imo. And unless we explain it, no one will understand.

          • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

            You begin to see some of what was challenging me as I attempted to write a simple, succinct introduction to the letter.

          • Daira Hopwood

            It would have been better not to write that introduction at all, frankly.

          • Cat Rennolds

            The problem is that all the terms are misleading, because as it was developing, the language we use did not have shape for these ideas. As a result, we have tried to stretch and mold existing words into new meanings – a thing that happens naturally over time, but not a time this short. So the same words are meaning too many different things. We need as a group to come up with more and further accurate language that does not change existing language out of recognition for native speakers. I could parse this word for word, but the important part is to parse the intended meaning of the speaker while we are working out the details. I understand the necessity and the right of a group to choose its own descriptors, but it might be more useful to choose less confusing ones. This in no way invalidates the concepts we are struggling to describe.

          • anakinmcfly

            It’s the ‘in most cases’ that’s the issue – because when it comes to intersex and/or trans people, we’re not talking about most cases. I know of intersex people who don’t like how the trans community has taken over a phrase that previously was used exclusively for intersex folk – and where the assignment was often *not* based on genitalia, but could sometimes be as arbitrary as asking the parents if they’d prefer a boy or a girl, and then operating accordingly on the kid. If we’re talking about a description of a person’s genitalia at birth, then ‘appeared’ male / female would be more linguistically accurate than ‘assigned’.

            I agree about brain gender being as physical. When I use the term ‘gender identity’ I’m referring to that sexed identity of the brain, whether a person be cis or trans. But I separate it from ‘gender’ because the latter is more of an umbrella term, so as not to mix it up with gender expression (how masculine or feminine someone is) or gender roles (what men and women are expected to do in society).

          • Andy

            Do you have a term you prefer to “assigned” that rather succinctly describes your gender identity? Or is something like FAAB acceptable? (I think I’ve heard that one used by some people about themselves, so I hope it’s okay, though I realize everyone doesn’t always prefer the same term.)

          • anakinmcfly

            I don’t have a preferred term, so I usually just use AFAB (basically the same as FAAB, but putting the verb first because it flows better imo) when in trans circles, and ‘born female’ in less trans-savvy circles, since it gets the general idea across. Or “they thought I was a girl when I was born”.

            But most terms are generally ok with me (with the exception of anything involving the word ‘real’), since this is an area that no one seems able to agree on, anyway. As long as I know the person doesn’t mean to offend, and understands that being a trans guy doesn’t mean I’m “really” a girl, I’m good.

      • anakinmcfly

        I agree that ‘born as’ is an easier way to get the concept across. It was the ‘because’ that threw me, though: “cisgender male, because I was born a straight male” implies that if you had been gay, you wouldn’t be considered cisgender.

        Perhaps the ‘straight’ could be put within parentheses, to get the same point across without suggesting that sexual orientation is part of the definition of ‘cisgender’, or putting it in another part of the paragraph.

  • Jill

    At the risk of categorizing too freely I just want to give thanks for my trans* friends that have shown me how to love deeply, trust when there are so many reasons in life not to and never give into the weight life can place on your shoulders. As a cisgender woman I cannot match the poise and grace of my trans friends.

    To my dearest and truest friend, your love and exceptionally generous kindness is emblazoned on my heart. You are never more than a moment of thought away from me. I love you always.

  • Marissa Knittel

    People aren’t “born male or female”; they’re assigned those labels at birth. By other people. There are many, many people who are intersex who fall outside of the binary of penis or vagina who are still assigned one sex or the other at birth. So not to nitpick, but cis-gender really means identifying with the gender *assigned at birth*. I figure since you’re opening up some space for discussing transgenderism that accurate definition of the term would be helpful.

    • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

      I’m aware, thank you. But most people are not at all clear on what “assigned at birth” means. Here is why I very carefully used the definition I did.

      • David_Weintraub

        Agreed, and that’s why I think it’s very important to use that language and to correct the phrase “so-and-so was born a female.” Accepting an incorrect description because it’s what people are used to hearing doesn’t do anything to disabuse them of the incorrect idea behind the description.

        “A person who was assigned a gender at birth [based on a cursory inspection of their external genitalia] that is different from their actual [biological] gender [which is determined by their neurology]” is pretty concise, even with the additional as-needed bracketed explanation.

        • anakinmcfly

          That feels really clumsy to me, though. Why not just: “a person who appeared [gender] at birth, based on genitalia, but was actually [other gender]“?

    • https://elizabeth-fullerton.squarespace.com/resume Elizabeth

      Hey Marissa. I usually link this as a primer on the medical construction of gender. The key takeaways are that 1. intersex is a ‘problem’ that must be ‘solved’ expeditiously and quietly, and 2. a predominantly male medical community favored surgically changing a male or intersex infant into a female rather than subjecting him to the social stigma of being less endowed. It’s somewhat dated with the advances in DNA and other tests, but it was an eye-opener back in the day. http://www.northeastern.edu/womensstudies/graduate/courses/course_material/men_women_social/documents/Kessler_Med_Construction_of_Gender.pdf (John, as always, delete if too far off-topic.)

    • lymis

      Wouldn’t the idea that people are trying to get across be successfully phrased as “assumed to be (male or female) at birth?”

      “Assigned,” for better or worse, carries with it the idea that the choice of designation was more or less arbitrary, while “assumed” would, it seems to me, carry the idea that the assumption wasn’t necessarily malicious and was at least based on some information, even it it turns out to be inaccurate in an individual case.

      It also strikes me as applying equally well to cisgender and transgender people. I was assumed to be male at birth, and that assumption played out as my reality, and my internal experience validates the assumption. A transgender person born with a penis would be assumed to be male – a genuinely understadable assumption given the percentages – but that assumption would have turned out to be inaccurate by the only meaningful measure, that of the person’s internal experience of identity and gender.

      • anakinmcfly

        Yeah, I like that.

  • Timothy L. Northrup Jr.

    People fear what they don’t understand. I’d like to think that this level of malicious hate is starting to recede, but even as a gay man in a relatively conservative area of the country it is hard for me to extrapolate. Good sir (and your partner, btw) have friends here. I hope you have people you can actually feel safe around in person as well.

    • Sheila Warner

      I concur.

  • Becky Wiren

    I’m so sorry. :’(

  • Eric Gubelman

    This is so powerful I read this a half hour ago and I am still in tears. Thank you so very very much for sharing this.

  • de_la_Nae

    And here I am reminded again of how soon (too soon) November is again.

  • Cori Wolvesbane

    wonderfully written
    I will never know exactly what you go through but all i have is sympathy, empathy and rlove…. real love not the fake love the sinner hate the sin bull

    • anakinmcfly

      this is a beautiful sentiment and I’m loathe to ruin it, but the last part of your sentence made me think of a large angry bull that goes around wantonly sinning, and everyone hates it. The Sin Bull ftw!

      • Cori Wolvesbane

        I laughed my ass off at that someone should make that an animation or comic
        and no you didnt ruin it, you gave me a good laugh. love it.

        • anakinmcfly

          :D Thanks!

  • http://www.fordswords.net/ Ford1968

    This. Is. Beautiful.
    What a lesson: “It’s who they are, not how they look.”
    What a world this would be if we could look at one another and see the image of God!
    Thank you to the writer and to you, John, for sharing it.

  • Jennifer

    Oh sweetie – I’m a cis mom and I just want to put my arms around you and let you know that you are perfect as you are. I hope you can have the surgery to make your body match your mind. If you were my child you would have been accepted by me long ago. And I wish the best for you and your partner. It’s clear you love each other and that is all that counts in this world. If you need a mom who accepts you, I can be there for you. Please know that you are loved.

    • anakinmcfly

      Not the OP, but as another trans guy: thanks. :)

      Most trans men (I think something like >90%) don’t get ‘the surgery’, though, if you’re referring to genital surgery. It costs about $100k (most insurance plans don’t cover it), involve months to years of separate surgeries (with periods in between for individual parts to heal before they proceed), put the patient at risk of various health complications, and be very, very painful. There’s also a very small risk of death from the above, though usually from things like complications with general anesthesia. Many also don’t find the end results to be satisfactory, although there are those who find it enough and much better than the alternative, and technology is advancing all the time.

  • Worthless Beast

    I was reading a column-article not too long ago (last week, I think) on Cracked.com about unexpected things that transgender people go through that don’t make the movies. (Lately, Cracked has taken on an influx of new writers with interesting random life experiences and has set their staff to editing them/helping them right pieces).

    Anyway, I rarely look down in the comments section on that site, but I’m registered there and have occasionally ventured into the pit. Most of the commentary that I saw at the time was actually pretty neutral, but there was this one guy going on about how he thought trans. was a mental illness because it’s crazy not to accept what you’re born with, blah, blah. I shot back at him (given the content of the article, the writer complained about issues faced at work), something like “if someone is reasonably well-adjusted and can hold work and is able to function in society and the only thing that’s making it hard for him or her is the way other people treat them, then they are far better adjusted than my cis-gendered bipolar self!”

    “Crazy” is a thing people in our world use to condemn people, when some people are only “crazy” because society’s full of jerks. That’s my opinion.

    • lymis

      Well said.

      And of course, that commenter, like so many people, completely misses the point of being transgender.

      Whether or not “it’s crazy not to accept what you’re born with” is completely irrelevant to the discussion, because what a transgender person is born with is an internal sense of gender identity (that will grow and develop over time) that is at odds with the usual expectations of what their gender experience will be given their body.

      I was born, given my family history, with eyes that were pretty inevitably going to be pretty bad by grade school. “Accepting what I was born with” involved being prepared to go to an optometrist and getting glasses, and later in life, having surgery to make them more the way I wanted them to be so I didn’t have to deal with the hassles of my eyesight and was able to live my life the way I chose.

      It was neither “crazy” not to just “accept” that I had crappy eyesight and blunder around running into things, nor unreasonable to take action to work around it. It was a reality that I chose to deal with in a way that worked for me.

      For someone born transgender (even if that awareness, like my eyesight) only becomes apparent over time, accepting that being transgender and choosing to address it in a healthy and responsible way IS “accepting what they were born with.”

      If anything is “crazy,” it’s telling people that they aren’t allowed to change things that they can change in order to live a more genuine, happy, and healthy life, whether that is something as involved as surgery, or something as basic as clothing, grooming, and preferred pronouns.

      And if anything is crazy, it’s feeling that we have a right to tell a total stranger how they are supposed to live their own life.

      • Andy

        Awesome. Nailed it!

  • Sheila Warner

    The transgendered that I have been privileged to meet and care for (as a nurse) have been beautiful people no different than anyone else. I can say “I love you” without qualification or judgment. Why? Because every single person is created in the image of God. Why would anyone try to deny that?

    • rhysharper

      Just a friendly correction – should be the “transgender people/individuals,” instead of “the transgendered.” :)

      • Sheila Warner

        Thanks. I’m still learning.

  • Bones

    Orthodox Archbishop Lazar tears critics of transgendered people a new one.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N122i0eK-ws

    • anakinmcfly

      I love this guy.

      • Matt

        And now I love him too.

  • cynthia334

    thanks to everyone commenting and also to the organizers of this site because this has helped my marriage, I can’t believe my husband changed just as he promised, so i must testify too. I was having troubles in my marriage and i was almost giving up because my partner wouldn’t find anything good in me anymore and it looked like we were not meant to be because he hardly talk to me or even touches me . Out of frustration i came online to see if there’s anything i can do to help my situation and last week I saw a post on how a lady saved her marriage through the help of a great man and i decided to try him because i was going through hell as me and my husband were like neighbors under the same roof . i contacted him as the testifier gave away his email and the man said he could help me. i thought maybe it will take a long time but within 48 hours after he finished his work my husband came home apologizing for the way he hurt me something he would never do normally even if it was obvious he was wrong. seriously i have nothing more to say other than thank you great man. if your marriage is failing or its a mess and you want to save it please don’t give up this really works out here is the email i used to contact him i am sure he can help prophet.briancarn@yahoo.com of a truth he really helps again his email his prophet.briancarn@yahoo.com


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