Be Yourself! But Not Like That!

A while ago, I tweeted something like this:

“Cis society: Be yourself!
Trans people: Yes, okay
Cis society: No, not like that!”
It’s been running through my head a lot since. I figured it deserves a blog post.

I see this as a sibling post to my often shared post about the pressure I feel as a bi person to “choose” to “be straight”… Because I feel a similar pressure to “choose” to be cis.

There is a very strong message that often comes from within trans communities as well as from cis society that says that being trans is so, so intrinsically awful that nobody would (or *should*) be trans if they could possibly avoid it. Indeed, many people spend months or years trying to convince themselves that they don’t want to transition when they actually do because of this very prevalent idea.

And just as with sexuality where most people will concede that some people can’t choose not to be gay, it’s understood that some people can’t be cis but it is frequently suggested that some people do have a choice – and that the “correct” choice is to be cis if at all possible.

I would be rich if I had a quid for every time someone tried to convince me that I should be able to live as a cis woman instead of as a trans man.
People told me (as if I somehow didn’t know) that women can dress in men’s clothes, that women can do and be anything men can, that it’s okay to be a lesbian, that it’s okay to be butch, that women can be androgynous and still be women… And I don’t disagree with any of these things! They just aren’t reasons why I should be someone I’m not.

I also frequently get told that I’d be “prettier” as a woman, that more men would be attracted to me if I lived as a woman, that more women would be attracted to me… And I don’t believe that. Authenticity is much more attractive than forced cisnormativity ever could be and even if it weren’t, I wasn’t born to be attractive I was born to be my best self.

The ways people have tried to convince me to stop being a man say a lot about why they think trans people transition. I’m not trying to become more attractive, I’m not looking at the clothes I want to wear and trying to make my identity “match” the side of the shop I find my clothes in. I don’t think that men are any better than women and I’m not trying to avoid homophobia. I know that women can be butch or androgynous – I’m not trying to escape one set of restrictive gender roles by fitting myself into another set.

I am, quite simply, trying to be myself.

While pretending to be a girl / woman made me deeply unhappy and caused me mental pain and anguish, that isn’t even really the reason I live as a man. I live as a man because THAT IS WHO I AM. There is no good reason why I should try to “be” anyone else but me.

Think about it, especially if you aren’t trans. Can you really imagine people telling you that who you are is wrong and you should be someone else instead? Imagine for a minute being told to act like someone else for the rest of your life and being told that the other made up, false “you” was actually more real than anything you thought or felt about who you are. Like going undercover or acting, say, but forever. It’d be doable, sure, but could you be happy? Could you be even satisfied with a lifetime of being someone else, even someone almost but not-quite like you? Or would the not-right-ness wear you down? Would the pressure of hiding anything that might blow your cover eat away at you? Would you be tempted to call it quits and just be yourself and hang the consequences?

I could, in theory at least, live as though I were a cis woman. But why on earth would I trade my integrity and authenticity for a thin veneer of cis privilege?

If you feel like you’re pretending to be someone else and you want to try being yourself, you don’t need to wait for the facade to be killing you to be “allowed” to drop it. Whether that’s a gender, a sexuality, a religion, a relationship, a career or something as simple as having a name that isn’t working for you, you don’t have to wait for things to feel completely intolerable to make a change. You deserve to be your self, with integrity and authenticity, right now.

I don’t need to earn the right to be myself or to suffer through every possible attempt to find a way to me kinda like myself but not trans before I can be the trans man that I am. No one should have to exhaust every other option before being who they are just because who they are is trans.

To expect otherwise (and many people do expect otherwise) is to insist that being cis or appearing to be cis is innately better than being trans. It’s not.

We all deserve to be ourselves. So don’t you dare tell me it’d be better if I was someone else instead.

We’re here, We’re Trans, Expect Us

Dear cis people,

Please start to expect us. Please actively expect that sooner or later you’re going to meet someone who is trans and you need to know the basics of trans etiquette before you do. That’s what I most need from you. Expect there to be people like me in your life.
This goes double if you work in a job that involves meeting people. If you work in a hospital, a school, college or Uni, if you work in social care, if you answer helplines, if you see people and talk to them as part of your job: Expect trans clients, customers and co-workers. Learn how to respectfully address people no matter what their gender and no matter how that gender relates to the one they were originally assigned.

You don’t need to understand why some people are trans. You don’t need to know the medical processes that some trans people might make use of in their transition. You don’t even need to know which people in your life are trans and which aren’t. Just please know that you are going to meet trans people and it’s your responsibility to be prepared.

You need to learn some basic trans terminology like “gender assigned at birth”. You need to make sure you know what “trans man” means, what “trans woman” means and what “nonbinary person” means. You need to know that some words used to refer to trans people are transphobic slurs and not to use them (Hint: if mainstream porn uses a word to describe a trans person, that word is probably a slur). You need to know that “trans”, “transgender” and “transsexual” are adjectives and never nouns. You need to learn and use the word “cis” or “cisgender” to describe people who are not trans. You need to already know that “You look just like a real man!” is almost never taken as a compliment.

You need to expect us. And not to expect us to educate you about trans people. It’s your responsibility as a human being to try your best to treat other human beings with care and respect. So once you know to expect that there will be trans people in your life, the responsibility to make sure you know how to treat us with care and respect is obvious.

I know it sounds like I’m asking a lot but I’m really not. The resources are out there. Ask in the comments if you need some links.

It all boils down to some very simple things you need to make sure you know:

  • There are trans people and there are cis people. It doesn’t matter why but there are.
  • Trans people’s genders are just as valid as cis people’s genders.
  • Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and care.
  • Treating people with respect and care involves acknowledging the validity of their genders by referring to them with the names, pronouns and gendered words they would want to be used for them.
  • Appearance, genitals, internal organs etc do not decide people’s genders for them. People are who and what they say they are.
  • You won’t always know if someone is trans or cis and this is okay.
  • If you need to know things about a person’s genitals, medical history or trans status, be polite, kind and sensitive in how you ask and make sure you actually do *need* to know.
  • Trans people aren’t obliged to educate you or to do so nicely. If you need to ask a trans person something about trans terminology or etiquette, be polite, kind and sensitive and make sure you are clear that they do not have to answer you. It is not their fault (or the fault of trans people generally) that you don’t know. It is not their responsibility (or that of trans people generally) to educate you. No one is born knowing this and everyone has to learn it. It is the fault of society as a whole that you don’t know this stuff – and part of changing our society into one where people are taught to show respect and kindness to all people is for you to do your best to learn this and to pass it on to others.

I know it feels much, much easier to just wait until you’ve got an out trans person in front of you and ask questions then and apologise when they wince at how you phrased something or be shocked when they tell you to fuck off. I know that seems easier. But please imagine for a minute what it is like to be regularly expected to explain your gender and how to respectfully treat you to almost every doctor, teacher, social worker, carer, nurse, bank clerk, pharmacist, new friend, new partner, class mate, cleric, lawyer, MP…etc… that you meet. And to smile and be nice about it and never show that you resent having to do this over and over again because so many people didn’t spend a few minutes online finding this out for themselves. I can explain what a trans man is and what it means that I am one in under a minute *because of the sheer frequency that I’ve had to do it*.

Help make this into a world where I and others like me will not have to constantly explain ourselves as an entry price for being treated like human beings.

Please educate yourself. Because you expect us.

Trans 101

People I know are often in need of hearing this.

Trans and maybe-trans and I-don’t-fucking-know and my-way-of-being-isn’t-recognised-in-colonialist-culture people, this is for you. Read it whenever you need to remember that you are just as much of a person as anyone else and you deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

Cis, otherwise not-trans and I-guess-I-never-thing-about-gender people, this isn’t for you but read it anyway. Think about how you can help change the world into one where people don’t need to be reminded that they aren’t broken. Think about what you and yours may have said and done that contributed to making people believe such things about themselves. Learn. Be better.

Binary Subverter

  1. You are a person. You are worthy of respect. You deserve to be treated with the same dignity as anyone else. There is nothing inherently wrong with your gender. You are not broken, you are not disgusting, you do not deserve to be hurt.
  2. You’ve been brought up and live in a world that’s designed to erase and demonize your existence, you’ve probably internalized a lot of that- and that’s not your fault. But it can be hard to deal with. But you aren’t alone in dealing with it. And sometimes you have to buy into it to be able to handle it (trigger warning: transphobic violence). And that’s okay.
  3. Your gender is no more or less than anyone else’s. Your history doesn’t make you “not really” or “less” your gender than someone with a cis history, it just makes you a person of your gender with a different history.

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