How to Love a Trans* Person

It’s really much simpler than you might think, to love a trans* person. So many people ask how a lesbian (my partner) can be in love with someone who isn’t a woman (me). And it’s not a foreign sentiment to hear…wondering how a straight woman could love a trans* man (though this in itself is a whole host of transphobic bollocks)….how a gay man might love a trans* woman. The whole thing leads you to believe that a trans* person is tough to love doesn’t it?

The problem is this…too often trans* people are reduced to their genitals and that sexuality is fixed not fluid. But those statements aren’t true. Gender is not equal to genitals, and sexuality is fluid. So really, loving a trans* person is as simple as falling in love. However, I myself feel like I can be tough to love and I doubt that is singular to me. Dysphoria and self doubt can get in the way of love and as a partner it can feel impossible to help someone out of those places.

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My partner fell in love with me before I was out as trans* and before I had voiced those feelings at all. She is a lesbian, I was presenting as a woman. When I found the courage to tell her about my gender identity I was terrified she would suddenly fall out of love and leave me. It scared me so much I almost didn’t say anything. But I did. And she told me the words everyone wants to hear: “I love you for who you are. Your gender doesn’t change that.” This is how to love a trans* person. Love them for who they are, not what gender they are. Since then I have begun transitioning which, for me, will involve a double mastectomy. It’s difficult, my partner loves women’s bodies and loves boobs. But a person is more than their body, and I am more than my chest.

When a trans* person comes out we should continue to love them in the same way we did before, they are the same person. The name and pronouns might change, but the person doesn’t. The physicality of the person might change, but the person doesn’t. Maybe loving a trans* person is a journey, sometimes you will love them through changes, surgery, names…Sometimes you will learn new things on the way. You will learn what it is like to live with dysphoria, you will learn how to make your loved one feel at ease with their alien body. You will learn the harsh realities of the world, that some people will hate you simply for your love. You will learn that an off hand comment can be a kick in the guts.

So maybe I will change that statement from before…loving a trans* person isn’t easy, you will find yourself fighting with them for the most basic of rights and accesses. You will hurt when they hurt, and that will be more often than you can imagine. You will stand up against an oppression you may not have seen before.

But the act of loving a trans* person is easy. You respect them for who they are, you do your best to learn and get things right, and you love them.

 

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Microaggressions – Not micro but definitely aggresive

The term “microaggression” was used by Columbia professor Derald Sue to refer to “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color. Eventually, the term has come to encompass the casual degradation of any socially marginalized group, such as the poor and the disabled.

Week 3 back at university began today. Week 3 of being LJ (they/them or he/him but definitely not EVER she/her). Week 3 of still being introduced wrong and misgendered.

As far as gender microaggressions go it tends to be something along the line of prying questions about body/surgery/sexuality/genitals, misgendering and phrases such as “but you look/sound feminine so it’s hard to remember the right pronouns”,”will you properly transition at some point?”, “when you were a woman” and “well you must understand it’s hard because of our age/we knew you as [deadname]”.

And it may (or may not) surprise you that these are all things I have heard from professional at work. In a hospital. You may think a microaggression is nothing, it’s in the name right? Micro. Small. Tiny. Nada, nothing. But it’s not.

These seemingly small things slowly chip away at your self identity and self esteem. They undermine your identity, making you out to be not a “real” man/woman. They shake the foundations of who you are. Some off the cuff un-thought-of comments haven’t just upset me but have made me question my choices and the way I identify.

What I mean by this is that microagressions have left me wondering if my choice to transition (whatever that means for me and however I choose to transition) is worth it, or the right thing to do. I find myself at the end of the day battling with myself to not just give up and say “hey you know what let’s just forget I ever mentioned I had a gender identity crisis, lets just go back to before that happened”. Because sometimes that seems like the easiest and least painful option. And let me tell you, hiding and living with gender dysphoria is not easy. That is why the choice for trans* people is most often to live authentically or suicide. There isn’t an option to truly live in any other way. It may be that you can hide for 40, 50, 60 years.

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The truth is this. I know I don’t pass as a man. I don’t always want to pass as a man, and I know full well I probably never will. But male fits me better than female and in a world that will make me choose I choose male. That means that I will face having to continually come out, continually being misgendered and continually being the target or ignorant or malicious trans* microaggressions, often without anyone standing up for me.

Here’s what I want to know: Why is it OK to ignore someone’s pronouns? Why is it OK to use the excuse of age/ignorance? These excuses don’t stand in other settings do they? You wouldn’t tolerate racist names over and over would you? Why do you ignore it with trans* people?

These microaggressions pop up EVERYWHERE. In the Nike advert that recently featured a trans* man. The questions aimed at him essentially made out that he wasn’t actually a man. That time a toilet attendant told me “the woman’s is down there” (find it here). It’s in the “So what is your real name?” questions. It’s in the “So how far into transition are you?” and “Will you have the op?” interrogations. And if you think you might have heard a microaggresion, here’s the simple test:

Would you ask this question to a cis person? Would you ask a cis man how he pees? Would you ask a cis woman if her breasts are real? Would you suggest a cis person forgive you called them by the wrong name or pronouns because “well you just don’t look like a Pete/Gail/masculine/feminine?” Would you tell a woman she cannot possibly be a woman if she doesn’t wear makeup/a dress/long hair?

The lesson is this. Think. If you wouldn’t say this to a cis person, it is not appropriate to say to a trans* person. It’s simple.

Drowning Out Dysphoria With Self Care

Body dysphoria is tough. It leaves you feeling flat and empty, or so full and overflowing with uncomfortable thorns in your side that you have no idea how to make sense of yourself. Imagine yourself, the gender you know you are, and looking down to see the body of another sex. Seeing a penis that you can’t relate to, breasts that aren’t yours, curves in the wrong places. It is the most uncomfortable outfit you have ever worn, but you cannot take it off. On those days, or weeks, I find getting dressed a chore and self care seems the hardest thing to do, but sometimes these are the things that remind us of who we are, to remind us of our worth. Here are some of my top tips:

  • Write a list of positive things you like about yourself and that affirm your identity; the way you style your hair and looked super masculine that day, the way your lips look curved and feminine, an outfit that makes you feel awesome. Tape it to a mirror so when you struggle to look at yourself you see the positives.
  • Get physical. Run as fast as you can, lift some weights, move your body. Revel in the brilliance of your body for the things it can do.
  • Talk to your pet, stroke them, give them kisses. They will forever love you and admire you while respecting your gender identity. Focus on the feeling of their fur, the sound they make. Talk and talk, they won’t judge.
  • Call a friend who you know you can have “low key chills” with. Company can help, but the right sort. Find company who will affirm you, whatever you look like or are wearing. Someone who will not ask anything of you except your silent company and maybe a coffee.
  • Treat yourself to something that makes you feel valuable. A posh coffee, a meal in your favourite restaurant, a new nail varnish, a massage, a bottle of your favourite wine.
  • Make something. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it or not, keeping your hands busy and seeing your own accomplishments are what it’s about. Cover everything in glitter (it always makes me feel better…) do a page of a scrap book, try customising an old piece of clothing, make a patch, write your own comic.
  • Buy yourself a present. You deserve it!
  • Build a fort, by yourself or with a friend. Gather your favourite things, make a pot of tea, put a film on and climb in.
  • Put on your favourite outfit, whether it’s appropriate or not! However fancy or casual, put on whatever makes you feel most like yourself.
  • Breathe. Take long, deep breaths. Count your breaths. Feel your chest rising and falling. Taste the air.
  • Read an affirming blog or poem. Bookmark it and keep it handy so you can find it when you need.
  • Make a change, dye your hair or get a new piercing or tattoo. Or put on a temporary tattoo. Get a hair cut.
  • Have a bath, or a foot bath. Move your body (or feet) in the water and focus on the feeling.
  • Go for a drive (if it’s safe to do so.) Wind down the window and blast away the cobwebs in your mind. I love the feeling of the wind on my bare arms.
  • Cuddle someone.

And remember this: You are valid. Your gender identity is valid. Trans* men: Your period doesn’t diminish your masculinity, you are manly as f*ck, even if you are curled up with a fluffy hot water bottle. As a very wise Taylor Swift once sang…Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate…shake it off!