With November behind us, I want to get something off of my chest. I should have written this sooner. I shouldn't have let it sit on my computer for so long. It's late, but at least it's no longer waiting to be published.
Confusion and curiosity are natural reactions. I get that. Believe me when I say that I'm not trying to deprive you of an education or an understanding. In fact, that's one of the biggest things I advocate for: education surrounding LGBTQ identities. But also please understand that there are some just some questions that don't need to be answered. Instead of dwelling on the negative comments or poorly-worded inquiries I've received in the past, some of which are just too ridiculous to repeat, this piece is really in honor of Transgender Awareness Month -- in appreciation for the years I've been able to exist just as I am.
I've always been an open book. Heck, last month, pictures of me post "top-surgery" and of my very feminine childhood were shared on people.com. Those closest to me, and perhaps strangers who've recently begun to follow my transition, can attest to the fact that I don't usually hold very much back. When someone wants to know more about my journey, I'm honest.
The end of middle school and all through high school served as the main part of my social transition: I changed my pronouns, changed names, and continued to change my appearance. I told friends that as long as they were respectful when approaching me, I would tell them the truth regarding whatever they may have been confused about. After all, these were kids I'd grown up with; they watched as I changed from the person they thought they'd known, to the person they realized had always been there. In several of my social groups, and in some of my classes, I was the first trans-guy they'd known personally. For a while, I told myself that if I didn't answer their questions, then they'd just go to someone else and make that person feel uncomfortable, and they would never learn what was and wasn't "acceptable" or respectful. And really, I don't mind talking about gender or gender identity; in fact, I enjoy it. But now, after being assured on and off over the last few years, it finally clicked: I finally realized that I don't have an obligation to reply. The voice that I found in middle school has served me well in sharing my story and spreading awareness, but that doesn't mean that's all it's good for.
With brave and intelligent people like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Jazz Jennings speaking out about issues that transgender-identified people may face, I hoped that some of the hesitation of discussing gender identity would have been diminished. Of course, I knew it wouldn't happen overnight. But I'd hoped that more folks would come to learn that the lives, both public and private, of transgender folks are just that: theirs. Being "out" doesn't give everyone else permission to be intrusive, regardless of their intentions. I'm not saying that nothing's changed. It's amazing just how much has changed this year; I mean, Laverne Cox was the first openly transgender-identified individual to be nominated for an Emmy (also, being on the cover of a little thing called TIME MAGAZINE!!). But as with any social movement, there are still roadblocks to overcome. For example: recently, someone-who-shall-remain-nameless was cast as a young transgender man in an upcoming film, which reinforced the much-debated issue of having cisgender actors (people whose biological sex "aligns" with their gender identity: someone assigned male at birth and identifies as a man, someone assigned female at birth and identifies as a woman) portray transgender characters.
This is where it gets heavy. See, I think questions about someone's sex life and which bathrooms they use are rather insignificant when you think about those who are no longer here, those who are unable to share their stories. Every year, November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance and it's just as it sounds: it's a day to mourn and remember thousands of people who have died -- killed because of their identity; their voices stolen from them as well as their freedom to live their lives like anyone else. It's a day to come together as a community and support one another in a way that may be impossible in other spaces. It's a day to show solidarity and love towards each other. At least, that's how I see it. Most, if not all of the persons that are named during a vigil or ceremony are only the ones to have been reported as victims. There are many more out there who have not been identified.
I feel like I owe it to those people to speak up and speak out, but I also owe it to myself to respect myself enough not to toss out my experiences carelessly. Like I said before, I'm cool with talking about gender. It's something that needs to be talked about. Gender roles and stereotypes play such a huge part in how we interact with one another. But I also like talking about movies and books, TV shows and music, politics and religion. Tom Hanks is one of my favorite filmmakers (Forrest Gump, hello??). I wanted to be best friends with Harry, Ron and Hermione; according to Pottermore, I'm in Hufflepuff. Orange is the New Black and Avatar: The Legend of Korra are tied for my favorite TV shows at the moment (how's that for opposite ends of the spectrum?). And music? I listen to a little of everything, except classical. To my own disappointment, Adam Levine and Bruno Mars were the first artists I could no longer sing along to when my voice began to change. I could go on about everything that makes me who I am, other than being a transman, but the list is longer than a college term paper. I'm not saying that my identity is a taboo subject, nor am I banning it from conversation, and I know this isn't the end of awkward questions; I'm saying that I'm like any other teenager. I just happen to have walked down two different roads.
It takes time to learn all of this and that's understandable. In many ways, this involves unlearning years of societal conditioning. But for some people, time is running out; for other's, they've got none left. No one is ever solely their biology or their past. Don't make them feel like that's all they are. And if you can, even if November 20 has passed, take just a moment to think about the folks who were taken from their friends, families and their communities just for being themselves. Everyone has a story and a voice; it's whether or not we listen that makes a difference.