Thursday, February 4, 2016

How To: Love Me (now that you know I'm trans)

I plan for this to be a post that I refer to in the future. At some point I plan to come out to various friends and family. It will be a new experience for most of us, as I've obviously never come out as trans before and most of those close to me know few or no people who have. I totally understand if it seems difficult or scary at first but I don't expect things to be so difficult in the long run. I actually expect things to be quite an improvement!

Below, I'm going to try to write a simple instruction manual for "how to love me now that you know I'm trans". This is specific to me, Sophie, and I don't expect my wishes to generalize to every trans person.

You can love me by following three extremely easy steps:
  1. Remember that I'm still me.
  2. Refer to me as me.
  3. Don't out me to others.
And now in more detail.

Remember that I'm still me

A whole lot of trans people seem to have a list of childhood memories that demonstrate that they've been trans all along. That's not exactly true for me. For reasons unknown, I have a very weak memory of my early childhood. I remember almost nothing before about age 5 and my memories pre-adolescence are also quite fuzzy. Beginning in adolescence, though, there's absolutely no mistaking the fact that I was trans (no mistaking it looking back, I mean). The important thing to understand is that I have been this way for a very long time, whether I or anyone else appreciated that fact.

And that's what I want to get at here. Just like everyone else, there are things about me that have always been true: I love pizza, I love the feeling of fixing something, I seek to impress and please people. And just like everyone else, there are things about me that are best described as phases: when I couldn't help but respond to every statement with "ACTUALLY...", when I thought extremely baggy pants were cool, when I was Dale Earnhart's biggest fan (yes, that was a thing that happened). 

One of the things that is fully, continuously me is my gender. I imagine it's going to be very difficult for some who have been close to me when I was younger to appreciate this. Hell, it was difficult for me to appreciate it. I can try to document the many ways in which my life just makes more sense now that I have realized that I am a woman—and I probably will, because I think it will make things easier for me and I find it interesting—but I shouldn't and don't have to do so in order to validate this part of me.

The bottom line is that if you care for me, then you care for all of me. You care for me, today, Sophia, the girl who works in a data science lab in the NYC area and misses home but loves The City. And you care for the little, confused girl who played the part of a boy for so many years. And in the case where someone cannot find it in themselves to continue caring for me, it will be because they have never cared for me. Period. No one gets to care only for the 'old me' or the 'new me'. They might miss the time when I felt like I had to be someone I wasn't but, if that's the case, they miss the act, the situation that made life worse for me in ways that I'm only beginning to recognize. If that's the case they never really loved me.

Refer to me as me

Hi, my name is Sophie. Feel free to talk about me when I'm not around exactly as you do other women: "She's just so funny and helpful!", "I find her research to be a little complicated but still quite interesting.", etc., etc. You should already be accustomed to using people's preferred pronouns, anyway. Unless you have already been told that this step is more complicated for you, it is not.

This isn't even the first time my name has changed. I was given a certain name when I was born. People met me and learned that name. Then when I was 5 years old, that name actually changed (long story, not getting into it now). New people met me and learned that name. People who already knew me began the process of calling me something different. Some legal and official papers were updated and others weren't and nobody was weird or nosy about it (to me, at least). An essentially identical process happened to my wife when we married and she took my last name.

I realize this might be difficult at first for people who learned to call be by a different name and use different pronouns. There are a few things that might make it easier. Go ahead and change my name in your phone. If you think you'll have trouble unlearning my old name or pronouns, go ahead and practice using my real name and pronouns in your head for a bit. 

Finally, let's briefly talk about misgendering and deadnaming. This is how many trans people refer to cases where someone intentionally uses the incorrect pronouns or name. Deadnaming is not something you need to worry about if you care about me. If you've just met me, there's no way to do so without actively trying. If you've already known me, you may slip up occasionally but it's going to sound and look a lot different from deadnaming. There's a chance I might be annoyed at slip ups (have you ever been sir'd or maam'd the wrong way over the phone? it can be annoying!) but if you're trying, I'm not going to be upset. 

That being said, deadnaming/misgendering is an intentional act and, as far as I'm concerned, the maximum amount of hateful and rude someone can be toward me.  Don't ever do this to anyone and don't ever do it to me.

Don't out me to others

 In nearly every way that matters, there is no difference between a trans woman and any other woman or between a trans man and any other man. One  major exception is that to be recognized as trans, or to be labelled as trans carries some significant implications. People have been fired, assaulted, and worse for being trans or for being with someone who is. So, for my sake and the sake of those around me, it's up to me when I share the fact that I am trans. You may know me as a trans woman, and I'm actually quite proud to be trans. I have this website out in the internet ether where I am clearly and openly trans. But that doesn't mean I'm required to walk around outside the internet with a "trans" sign on my back... unless I choose to, that is ;)

So, please do not share the fact of my trans-ness without my consent. The one complication here is when talking to others who know me by an older name (or gender). If you could kindly tell them something like "Oh, she goes by Sophie now" that would be fantastic. Thanks for understanding :)

The extra mile

For me, those are the basics. But maybe you want to do more. I think everyone could benefit from having a better, more authentic understanding of trans people. I've put together a list of things you can check out if you want to learn more: Trans 101. I'm also going to write periodically here so feel free to check back for other things.

Another thing that friends and family can do that would mean a lot to me is to be vocally and visibly supportive of the lgbt community at large. Sometimes, my rights and the rights of others get put up to a vote. That's not how things should work, of course, but because that happens, it's important to me that people vote to protect my rights. Even more so, it's important to me that everyone knows that there are tons of (perhaps) non-lgbt people who care about our rights. So fly that rainbow flag. Come to your local pride festival (just be mindful of the fact that you're a spectator). It really means a lot to me.

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