I write how-to articles, think pieces, advice, and inspirational stories for the LGBTQ space, with an emphasis on transgender topics! My mission is to inspire other LGBT members to live as authentically as possible!
Do you know those shows where the heroes arrive in what seems like a glittering paradise of a city, only to slowly uncover a permeating malice that operates undetected beneath the surface?
I’m starting to feel like that hero, and Boston’s starting to feel like that city.
When I had gotten my job offer to come here, I couldn’t have been happier. The LGBT scene seemed alive with activity, contrasting heavily with the nonexistent LGBT experience (or, as I like to call it, ‘ex-queer-ience’) I had in Delaware. Rather than searching random, hidden meetups for a chance to find other people like me, the events were on Facebook – public, out in the open, visible. It was a dream come true.
But as I’ve integrated myself into the city, talked to the people, and explored the politics, things haven’t been sitting quite right. Earlier this year, there was an option on the Boston ballot to repeal rights for transgender citizens barring them from harassment. This spurred the counter-movement, ‘Yes on Three’, that thankfully was enough to persuade voters to maintain our protections. The fact remains, however, that the option to remove our rights was on the table. It passed the cutting-room floor. It was there.
Upon attending a protest for this bill, an event that gathered about 500+ people to support transgender policy protections, the kind and inspirational voices of the speakers were drowned out by a small but vocal crowd of hecklers and anti-trans activists. Tensions grew until the hecklers and about 40% of our crowd reached a vocal impasse, shouting their slogans back and forth until I could hear nothing but a mixture of ‘Trans rights are human rights!’ and ‘Protect our children – no trans in bathrooms!’. I tried to tune out the hostile vibes ringing in my skull and listen to the speakers. There are bound to be counter-protesters wherever you go, right?
Pride and Prejudice
My faith was somewhat restored during the LGBTQ conference at Harvard as I swiftly injected myself into a bubble of activists and pro-LGBT politicians. I left the conference feeling like a modern-day Plato after a weekend at the forum – mind teeming with ideas and excitement coursing through my bones. Perhaps the legislative hiccup I had advocated against before was just a fluke? Unfortunately, I’ve learned from both our large-scale and small-scale administrative behavior that no matter how small the whisper, there are those that will act on it to hurt others.
I’ve supported friends who were harassed and fired from jobs due to their queer status and skin color. I’ve read about a transgender activist killed by her husband a mere two months before I arrived in the city. And I’ve seen the political environment towards LGBT people grow increasingly more hostile, especially at the intersectionality of economic, social, and racial discrimination straddled by the black queer community. And this week, to top it all off, there may be a ‘straight pride parade’ taking place in the heart of Boston.
To give some context for those that may not be in the loop – a Facebook post (shown below) had surfaced, claiming that the city of Boston may allow a ‘Straight Pride’ event to exist (complete with flags and floats) later this summer. Sporting the slogan ‘It’s Great to be Straight’, a small subset of the cis- straight community appears to feel discriminated against because they aren’t forced to have a month advocating for the economic and physical safety of their people. I don’t think I need to waste time explaining the problematic nature and tone of this event.
However, despite the backlash the post is receiving on Twitter, we all know that virtual support does not equal a change in turnout nor does it guarantee a systematic obstruction of homophobia. This same tactic can be seen used against Muslims (‘Christianity is being assaulted!’), the black community (‘All Lives Matter’), and has finally made its way into the LGBT movement. Rather than bringing the straight and gay community together to celebrate our shared humanity and advocate for inclusive policies (a.k.a. PRIDE), this event threatens to further separate our two communities and will likely be filled with homophobic and transphobic attendees. This can help empower those attendees to enact serious harm to LGBT individuals and further an agenda of discrimination and violence.
But how can we deal with it? This is where the cis-straight people reading this article come in.
Allies Are Key
There are two ways to support a demographic you are not a part of (this applies to the LGBT, black, Muslim, immigrant, or any other marginalized community). The first is by individually supporting the people in those spaces, either personally or through social media. This is the most common style of support. It feels good! It’s light, it’s fun, it’s easy. You are helping another feel ‘accepted’. Maybe you are even going the extra mile and understanding what their problems are! A true patriot. If you are a young, hip, liberal, white millenial or younger, this is likely the route you will take. But this style of advocating, while satisfactory on a personal level, does nothing in the grand scheme of politics. The reason? It only takes one bad seed, one transphobe, one homophobe, one racist, to destroy a life or to set a political movement back years.
To top it all off, our current system of social media does a wonderful job of making sure you never, ever interact with them. All your Facebook shares, all your likes, your comments, they largely mean nothing. You are in a thought bubble carving a circular path to nowhere. Few statements you make online reach a brain who needs to hear it. Furthermore, online discourse has been proven to entrench people in their beliefs more often than sway them. So, if you take one thing away from this article, let it be this:
Personal support does nothing on a systematic scale.
Read that again.
Does that mean personal support isn’t necessary? Of course it is. We need love, understanding, post likes, a fist-bump, and a hug. Those things are pivotal. But they won’t stop homophobia, trans murders, police brutality against black people, and legislative rollbacks from gaining traction.
The bottom line? The reason I’m writing this article during my lunch break at work while shoveling trail mix in my mouth because I don’t have time to eat?
We need you. There is a second way to support our community, but it’s significantly more difficult. And that is active opposition to members of your community (because yes, straight people ARE part of your community) that wish to do us harm.
This ‘straight pride’ parade is your time, YOUR moment, to actively voice your opposition to people who want to discriminate against us. Because let’s be honest, we all know what will happen (politically speaking) if LGBT members are the only ones who oppose this:
“The gays are silencing our voices!” “No more straight discrimination!” “Free speech is shut down by the gays!” These braindead slogans will fill the minds of those already pre-disposed to homophobia.
The sad truth? We can’t do this alone. There are too few of us. And as a trans woman, my existence can be spun into whatever demonic, falsified, drug addicted, child-molesting image the media wants to make of me. But the straights? The cis-gendered? The whites? They have power. And they need to USE that power, not just in the fluffy manifestation of LGBT support, but in the dark, gritty world of active opposition.
Boston isn’t perfect – and we have a LOT of work to do. So, members of Massachusetts and beyond – call your state legislation. Organize and look for counter-protests against the straight pride march. Actively oppose any whisper you hear that the straights are being discriminated against. Find a queer friend and ask what you can do to help. SHARE THIS ARTICLE (even though you don’t want to make your feed ‘too political’). Work to fight the underbelly of Boston that appears to be making continually emboldened attempts to disrupt the LGBT community.
And then bring that same energy to the other marginalized groups whom you stand with.
These past few years have brought with them a contradictory mixture of both advances and setbacks for transgender rights. On one hand, the levels of advocacy and support for our livelihoods and happiness has reached the public space in a way not seen previous decades. More and more medical professionals and insurance companies are recognizing gender dysphoria as a viable medical condition, and transgender activists and politicians are standing up to effect change with a gusto that, given our current administration, is sorely needed.
On the other hand, in the past two months alone, the Trump administration has enacted their goal of instating a full ban on transgender expression in the military and has just voted a ‘conscience rule’ which allows for doctors to refuse treatments that contradict with their personal beliefs. Though this is targeted at abortions, critics say it can easily allow medical professionals to deny care for trans people. Transgender people continue to fight for legitimacy in athletics, and even intersex women (most recently Castor) are being told their natural hormone levels should be repressed in order to level the playing field. Combine that with the (seemingly) weekly stories of trans people getting killed, assaulted, and/or chopped up, and we’ve got a whirlwind of diametrically opposed political and social pressures grappling with each other like uncomfortably sweaty wrestlers.
And don’t even get me started on the Twitter scene.
Existing at the epicenter of this social tug-of-war is…stressful, to say the least. For me, being actively worried about the social and political climate is a fairly new feeling (keep in mind I was reaping the benefits of white, male privilege for most of my life). When I had started to transition, I had to admit I approached it with a good amount of optimism despite many, many stories to the contrary. I had a blisteringly strong will, a tenacious desire to accomplish my goals, and the brains to back it up. And of course, I was lucky enough to have the support of my best friends (despite only being able to reach them online).
However, upon settling into my identity and starting my headstrong foray into the world of activism, the constant feeling of my identity being cast in the political and social spotlight can be draining. Will my healthcare be taken away, eliminating the ability for me to afford the surgery I’ve always dreamt of? How hard will it be to get a job that pays what I deserve in the future? Will I wake up one morning and my hormones just…won’t be covered anymore? Will I slip up and out myself to the wrong person, becoming another statistic?
An Identity in the Spotlight
My experience, like the experience of so many other trans people (and for that matter, all LGBTQ individuals) consists of a conflicting and chaotic palette of celebration and worry. Pride parades, parties, and outreach events fill the daytime air with glitter while the acidic undercurrent of Facebook and Twitter dissolves our optimism at night. The internet is quick to ridicule any accomplishment by a trans person with the same tired insults, sparking a flame war that we can’t help but read. We wonder if any of the people fighting over who we are has even met a trans person in real life. We scream and type into the void, injecting our thoughts into the flow of social media like an addict injects heroin, hoping our intellectual hit of inspiration can make a difference. However, what we thought was an ocean is actually a whirlpool, keeping our opinions, experiences, and ideas from the very people who need to hear it.
And while before I naively thought that our administration’s anti-trans rhetoric was nothing more than a political distraction full of hot air, I realize now that it is frighteningly real. Activism is a bit like cleaning a room. If you stop putting in the work, the room naturally becomes messy. This principle applies to the rights of not only trans people, but all marginalized groups. Constant – and I mean constant – advocation, awareness, and exposure is needed to achieve and upkeep basic rights for all people, regardless of lifestyle.
After all, it only takes one bad administration to reset the clock decades behind where we should be.
Living in Beauty
Oof, this got heavy. A bit too heavy for my taste. Everything I’ve said is a hard truth, but I’m not one to dwell on the problems without focusing on solutions. So let’s allow the existential dread to pass and think about how we can fight for each other while maintaining our sanity, shall we?
The single best way I’ve found to keep myself grounded is to fill my life with supportive, ambitious, inspiring people. And I don’t mean from the internet – I mean people in the same physical location as you. I know, that sounds insane – but the rewards are incredible.
No phone call or online conversation has ever measured up to getting brunch with an awesome coworker. No night spent inside on Twitter can shake a stick at a night at an LGBT bar takeover or activist event. No online video game has ever given me the same relaxed contentment that a night of cards with my friends. No Saturday staring at a blank piece of paper has ever been more inspiring as having an electric, passionate conversation with a fellow LGBT member (or ally) over coffee. These experiences are fulfilling – they remind me that in a world where algorithms are designed to feed my brain the most addictive, anxiety-producing stories imaginable, it is possible to create a beautiful life despite it.
And after all, isn’t living beautifully in the face of adversity the best form of rebellion?
In a few short years, the annual WorldPride event will be staged in Copenhagen! This annual festival combines celebration, awareness, advocacy, and acceptance in an event that reaches across the globe. In partnership with the EuroGames, this festival provides LGBT members from all over the world a moment to share their stories, inspire others, and make the world safer for all!
As I began this blog, my goal is to reach a wide audience and use a combination of writing, speaking, and advocacy to make the world as safe as I can for transgender and other LGBT individuals. So you can imagine my excitement when I was asked to write a piece for WorldPride Copenhagen’s blog! This collection of writings spans both the globe and the spectrum, giving people a peek into the life of our lives. I chose to write about one of the most important lessons my transition has taught me – one that I think any individual can take to heart. I hope you enjoy it, and I’m ecstatic to continue creating and fighting for us all!
Click the image to view my article on WorldPride's website!
Are you trans? Helping a Boomer with their gender expression - YouTube
Recently, I was contacted by someone who was struggling with their gender identity. I figured this would be a great opportunity to make a difference and try to help them sort out their thoughts. I had no idea of their story coming in, but after some chatting I learned of some fundamental misunderstandings that can occur when trying to sort out one’s gender, especially for the older generation!
We tend to take for granted the terminology that we pick up as young adults. Gender identity vs gender expression, masculinity vs femininity, transgender, gender dysphoria…it takes a LONG time to get a handle on ourselves and the terms that define us. It can be even more difficult if you are older, and have lived through the burden of decades of backwards thought and rigid gender norms. Today, I help an elder understand how they can best explore their desire to express a more feminine identity, and how that desire ties into the labels of non-binary, transgender, and sexuality.
Transphobes may try to assert that “everyone is turning trans” and label activists as monsters who want to corrupt minds. But I think you’ll find in this video that exactly the opposite is happening. All I want – and all the LGBT movement wants, is for people to be unapologetically themselves and live with no regrets. We only get one chance at life – we need to put everything we are on the table.
Being any iteration of LGBT is a unique experience in that, for many of us, our LGBT status can be hidden from the general public. Thankfully, through years of advocation, ligitation, and… *frantically ruffles through the dictionary for another word that ends in ‘ation’* …fornication (?), LGBT visibility has taken huge steps forwards. In today’s world, celebrities and citizens alike have come out publicly and LGBT representation in pop culture has drastically improved. However, behind the multicolored and glamorous surface, coming out to the general public can open up a Pandora’s box of social, and physical risks. Knowing when and how to come out to the public (for example, at your job) is an extremely personal decision – one that we don’t take lightly. However, for those that may still be in the proverbial closet when it comes to their professional life, I’d like to use your time today to talk about how I came out at work and the prominent LGBT activist who helped inspire me to do so!
Part 1: Life in Stealth
I had moved to the big city of Boston from a sleepy town in Delaware excited to start my brand-new life as a woman. Here, no one knew who I was before. No one knew I used to be a boy and no one knew about my failed engagement. I was no longer ‘Mike-sorry-Michaela’, I was just Michaela. And it felt as wholesome and freeing as watching Saturday morning cartoons as a kid the weekend before summer vacation. Any anxiety I had of being outed was quickly abolished as I fell into a great group of gals on day one, followed by assimilation into a wonderful and respectful team of scientists at Sanofi-Genzyme.
But despite this comfort, I continually found myself hiding my identity from my peers. When I told funny stories of my roommates from college, I had to add little white lies like ‘my roommates from the floor above me’ since I couldn’t let them know that I used to be and live as one of the guys. When we would talk about children, I wanted so badly to express my dreams of adopting (since I could never conceive my own). But I held my tongue and simply said, “I wasn’t ready for children.” I tried to water down my love of video games and brand it as just ‘board games.’ Hell, I even hid it from the on-site doctor when I went to get blood taken!
“Hello, love! Are you Michaela?”
“Why, yes I am!”
“Great, I’ll be taking your blood today, and are you pregnant or on your period?”
“…nope, my period won’t be for a while.” *laughs in hidden*
This was a real conversation.
So, long story short, I was guarding my secret identity better than Spiderman. But over time, as I grew more comfortable with myself, I felt like I wasn’t living authentically. Being trans was such a huge part of my story – it’s shaped me (quite literally) into the woman I am. And even though I had the privilege of passing, I felt like I had a responsibility to other trans people that may not pass to show the world what we can become.
So I decided to come out. The question was…how?
Part 2: The most shockingly boring (but effective) coming-out story ever
I’d love to say that I called everyone at work into an auditorium, threw a trans flag over my shoulders, and strutted onto the stage to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way”, setting my old birth certificate on fire in a pentagram whilst tossing hormones into the crowd like guitar picks. But alas, today I have two less flashy (but much more practical) tips for coming out at work!
Tip #1: Gather a small band of freedom-fighters
Like any good movie where a small group of rebels fight the patriarchy, you need to test the waters and gauge how likely you’d be to encounter any discrimination when coming out at work. To test this, I’d first try to find one or two good people that you feel comfortable with. For me, there were a few good friends I made during my initial year at work, and I felt like it would be a safe start to open up to them, which I did at lunch. However, I didn’t make it a whole dramatic “I need to tell you something” ordeal. I’d already gone through that with my family – I didn’t want any more drama. Instead, I sprinkled it in during conversation when we were talking about our pasts.
Something like, “Oh right, I never told you but I’m transgender. And so when I was a kid, I actually never was able to have a sweet sixteen but it seemed like fun!”
It went extremely well, as I’d chosen my initial audience perfectly. They were astonished but supportive, and honestly it deepened our connection as well as our friendship! Getting one or two people to open up to really makes you feel more accepted, even if the vast majority are still in the dark.
However, what if you want to increase your radius of visibility? Maybe you want to come out to your team as gay, or you want to be more authentic in the workplace. How would you go about that?
I had met Aisha at Harvord’s yearly LGBT conference and knew from her first sentence as our keynote speaker that I wanted her advice on how to come out. Her story was incredible and her contributions towards the LGBT community were groundbreaking. She was fiery, pragmatic, and influential. She is an openly queer political adviser and activist that had been fighting for LGBT rights for over 20 years, and as I approached her with a question that must have seemed laughably silly to her, she smiled and told me how she did it.
Tip #2: Make your identity an active part of your story
Her method? Just be authentic. Don’t formally announce your queerness in a press conference like Iron Man, but don’t hide or shy away from an opportunity to tell your story. You had a hiking trip with your lesbian partner? Talk about it when people ask how your weekend was! Did you used to be a different gender when you were a kid? Talk about it when swapping childhood memories! Make it an active part of your story, rather than just a way you identify. This let’s your audience take in this information and assimilate it into your story and does wonders to humanize our experiences.
It seemed radically simple, and there wasn’t an ounce of glitter involved. But I figured, since I didn’t have any better ideas I’d give it a go!
Part 3: Putting it into practice
"I’d love to say that I called everyone at work into an auditorium, threw a trans flag over my shoulders, and strutted onto the stage to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way”, setting my old birth certificate on fire in a pentagram whilst tossing hormones into the crowd like guitar picks."
An opportunity to use this strategy conveniently came a few days after the conference, when I scored a date with an intriguing, beautiful woman (I’m also bisexual – basically LGBT alphabet soup over here). I was very visibly excited at work, since it was my first legitimately awesome date I’ve had in months (and I looked great, if I do say so myself). People could tell from my attitude and my dress that I had somewhere to be after work. And when I they asked? I just told them the truth.
I didn’t vaguely say “Oh I’m seeing someone” or “I have a fancy dinner after work” like I would have normally stuttered. I stood up straight, smiled giddily, and told them I had a date tonight and I couldn’t wait to see her. They could see the happiness and excitement as I told them, and though there was the tiniest pause once I said the word ‘her’, they smiled and congratulated me on the date. They then began eagerly asking me questions about how we met, becoming just as invested in my story as I was!
I’ve applied this technique to come out as trans to my team as well, and it has worked better than the Squatty Potty (non-sponsored). It’s pretty hard to not feel happy for someone who is living authentically and loving every minute of it. After coming out, I even met a woman to the company who had a trans daughter! I now feel a deeper connection to my coworkers, and though down the road there may always be one or two bad seeds, I feel confident that I’ll be able to outshine them.
Coming out is a decision everyone must make according to their own code. As for me, I think that life is far too short to give it anything less than my all. And I hope that, if you decide to become this force for exposure and change, that you let your story burn brighter than any shadow people may try to cast on your life.
Wow, that was pretty profound. That should be on a fortune cookie. What company makes fortune cookies? I’m going to go look that up. Until next time, stay epic!
Ah, privilege. A subject that, to a casual observer, seems as contradictory and confusing as the thought of Ben Shapiro coming out as transgender while on his way to meet Mike Pence at a climate change action summit. Terms such as ‘White Privilege’ and ‘Straight Privilege’ are quickly coined and used as a sort of Bat Signal to raise awareness for key cultural issues we are trying to move past as a society. However, to the right, this idea is seen as nothing more than a politically-correct way to invalidate the concerns of the majority, widen the divide between black and white, and attack someone for qualities they have no control over (such as race and sexual orientation).
The tendency for the meaning and intention of political movements to drastically change depending on which political party is reporting it is one of our society’s biggest problems. It has turned a movement of awareness into a perceived attack on the majority’s problems, struggles, and very existence.
It’s hard to communicate your ideas effectively when the (metaphorical) sign you’re holding up can be read in two diametrically opposed ways depending on the person reading it. Most issues today are handled like the gold dress/blue dress debate – everyone’s too busy trying to decide the color of the dress when the question we should be asking ourselves is “…can we even afford this dress?!”.
So with this article I’d like to talk about my privilege as a trans woman. Yep, you read that right. I got privilege. I have challenges, sure. But I also have advantages. Advantages that other cis-gendered women and women of color may not have had as easily or as readily. And I want to talk about what those are and how I can leverage those realizations to help make society a little bit better. Maybe this can inspire others to ‘check their privilege’ in a way that doesn’t make them angry, but instead allows them to connect with and help others! That IS the goal, after all.
Privilege #1: Growing up in a white, middle-class household
What It Was
The privilege that I can see for myself (anyone of color is free to correct me) boils down to an (on average) easier access to housing and quality education. Racist housing policies of the past such as redlining have set people of color back both socially and financially, and these ripples take decades to peter out. In fact, income inequality and housing inequality are inextricably linked, further forcing the cultural diffusion in a quagmire of red tape. And the advantages of a wealthy neighborhood are easy to find; better neighborhoods have more money, and as a result have better schools. My parents were by no means rich (I had to pay for my own college, car, etc). However, the neighborhood we moved into was safe, the schools that I went to were decent, and money was never a hindrance to my ability to receive an education.
How It Helped Me
Access to quality education and a peaceful neighborhood allowed me to make the most out of my studies, and I combined this with my above average intelligence to get scholarships in a great school in a prestigious STEM field. This turned into a quality degree I used to secure a high-paying job in industry.
How I Use This Knowledge
Knowing how access to quality education has made this a primary concern for me as a voter. Representatives committed to giving quality education to all people as and fixing our school systems has become one of the top political priorities, since I know how many dividends my education has paid me over the years. Additionally, because my neighborhood was safe, well-maintained, and relatively peaceful, it was easier to focus on my studies as well as get the resources I needed to attend a good university. I have an increased awareness of how a poorly maintained neighborhood can limit the potential of children that grow up in them, and I try to view people as a mixture of ‘nature vs nurture’, recognizing that even the brightest mind can fail to grow if placed in improper soil.
Privilege #2: Growing up as a male engineer
What It Was
Even though being a man was one of the core problems with my identity, it ironically has given me many social advantages that I take with me as I crossed into womanhood. Now, to be fair, I transitioned before I got a real job, and so I can’t personally speak towards the gender pay-gap. However, I believe that the attitude I cultivated as a man has helped me in my corporate life as a woman. As a man, I grew up on the right side of the ‘Confidence Gap’ – a sociological phenomenon resulting in women being, on average, more risk-averse than men, which can hinder personal and professional development. (and we haven’t even TOUCHED the fact that growing up as a man, my risk of sexual assault is drastically reduced)
How It Helped Me
My confidence, ambition, lack of fear of failure, and proactive attitude has been the reason for many of my life’s accomplishments – from transitioning to becoming a project lead after only a few months at my job. I am continually looking ahead at new ways to help those around me, and I rarely let fear of judgement stop me from creating something that I am passionate about. Obviously, personality types are a combination of nature and nurture, so I’m sure that if I grew up as a woman my spirit would be more or less the same. However, sociological trends caused from unique upbringings can have a real effect on the development of an adolescent, and so for all I know, my natural confidence may have been nurtured and allowed to flourish during my male upbringing in a way some cis-women do not experience.
How I Use This Knowledge
Support women’s professional networking, strong and diverse female role models in movies, and allowing my future child to choose their own passions without judgement. I will also ensure that my children are raised to be ambitious, determined, and to not fear failure or ridicule as they follow their dreams.
Privilege #3: Being a white trans woman
Partial list of trans women murdered in 2015
What It Was
As a trans-woman, I need to entertain a higher-than-average sense of caution when trying to go out and socialize, with current data showing trans women have a 4.3 times higher risk of being killed than cis women. However, there’s one extremely important point to make here, and that is out of the 53 trans gender victims from 2013-2015, 46 of them were women of color. Forty six. That’s 87%. Trans women of color are placed in the incredibly difficult position of lying at the intersection of both racial and gender fallout from the community. I can’t claim to understand the sociological reasoning behind this racial disparity, and I am privileged enough to have never needed to look it up.
How It Helped Me
I don’t think this needs much explanation. The implications of high murder rates for trans women of color when compared to cis-women or white trans woman can’t be understated. Our trans sisters of color have it incredibly difficult. And I am the first to admit that, with all our work trying to legitimize ourselves in the eyes of the world, we often can neglect to have much needed conversations about those in our community that need it most.
How I Use This Knowledge
Advocation, normalization, legitimization. When I was going through a period of huge hormonal upheaval from medical problems, it was all I could do to last the week. I had no mental energy to think about how I fit in to the grand structure of the world, much less advocate for myself. My tank was running on empty. I didn’t have the faculties to make any change other than what I could do for myself. I know this feeling of hopelessness and overwhelming stress – and it’s a feeling that many underprivileged transgender people share. You can’t advocate when you are barely afloat. So I’m using my privilege the only way I know how – by combining my education, financial stability, and physical safety to try to write and advocate for other transgender people.
Conclusion: Embrace your privilege!
Privilege doesn’t – and shouldn’t – make you feel less accomplished or empowered than another person. We all have our struggles, we ALL break the norm, and as a trans woman I can tell you that no aspect of life is starkly binary. I believe recognizing your privilege should, if anything, make you feel energized and motivated to improve the world! It can be used to advocate for a group that is unable to advocate for themselves, or (at the smallest scale) just to have a conversation with someone whose lifestyle you don’t understand. Privilege isn’t just racial – it’s economic, educational, political, and sexual. When trying to navigate this Age of Information, taking a movement and using it to spread acceptance and empowerment is one of the best things you can do. So today, I invite you all to check your privilege – and use it to help the world in whatever way that may be. The power is yours.
Being a transgender bioengineer has its pros and cons. On one hand, it gives me a huge advantage when navigating through the minefield of hormonal transition (given the huge difficulties transgender people face when trying to find a suitable endocrinologist). On the other hand, I have to listen to/read comments from people who haven’t had a biology class since high school explain chromosomes to me. But alas, as Aristotle once said, “With great knowledge comes great mental indigestion.”
…did he actually say that? I’m not sure. Hey, my specialty is science, not history.
Anyways, you science geeks out here are going to love this. And for the non-science people, I’ll do my best to use every metaphor I know to keep my article interesting and engaging, while hopefully teaching you some sweet nuggets of biology along the way! As you have probably guessed from the title of this article, the title of my blog, and literally everything else about this website, we’re going to be talking about LGBT stuff. Specifically, I want to address one of the primary arguments transphobes throw out to try to convince others that this condition isn’t real: that if you were born with an XY chromosomal structure, you are a genetic male (and a genetic female if you have an XX chromosomal structure). Now, don’t get me wrong, in 99.9% of cases, this logic usually holds true. XY -> penis -> men. XX -> vagina -> women However, if we zoom out from the genitals for just a second, we can see pretty easily that there is more to a man or woman than what’s inside their pants. And if you keep reading you’ll see how the definitions of a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ are a bit more blurry than you might think. Lastly , I hope to explain how the same genetic code can be manifested in entirely different ways (which is the science of epigenetics) and how this pertains to the transgender individual.
Get ready, cause’ I’m about to Mrs. Frizzle your face off.
Part 1: Defining the areas of gender expression
So to start, I’d like to propose we segment the human body into four different areas where gender can be expressed:
The chromosomes (this is the genetic code most widely asserted as being the end-all for gender discussions)
The genitals, like we mentioned before. This is known as a person’s primary sex characteristic.
The body. This included secondary sex characteristics, such as hair growth, muscle mass, breasts (or lack thereof), bone structure, bone density, and fat deposition patterns.
The brain. While the majority of brains have a unique blend of masculine and feminine features [REF 1], there are documented physiological differences in certain areas [REF 2]. These manifest as behavioral and structural differences in areas such as the hypothalamus and the stria terminalus [REF 3] (a small region in the inner brain).
Now, why am I separating the genetics from the genitals, brain, and body? Well, the reason is that each of these areas can be male or female (independently of each other) based on a complex series of events that arise during conception. In most cases, all four of these areas are consistent with each other. The XY chromosome of a man triggers formation of the testes, which release testosterone, which signals the body to form male secondary sex characteristics. And, most importantly, their brain is that of a male’s. This same thing happens for a woman – the ovaries triggered by the XX chromosome produce estrogen, which makes female secondary sex characteristics, and the female brain has no problem with that. However, the chromosomal structure does not always have the final say in the ‘sex’ of the gonads, body, or the brain. The reason for this is because genetics are not the only piece of this puzzle – we must also consider epigenetics.
Part 2: What is Epigenetics? And how can this override regular genetics?
Most people think of genetics like the ‘biological blueprint’ of the body. And for good reason – the body can’t exist with out a properly working genetic code. However, what most people don’t realize is that a huge percentage of our DNA is not being used at any given time (research suggests that less than 10% of the genome is functional, in the strictest definition of the word [REF 4]). The science of which genes are being turned ‘on’ or ‘off’ by environmental conditions is known as the study of epigenetics [REF 5], and over the years science has uncovered an incredible diversity in the way our body chooses which genes to express and which genes to keep silent. Think of it this way – rather than having the blueprint to just one house, our genes contain blueprints for many different houses, with unique add-ons, accessories, and attributes. Which blueprints the body decides to read can be toggled based on the environment – this is the basis of epigenetic study.
Connecting this back to our earlier discussion on the different areas of gender expression within the body, I’m going to show real examples of how the environment can alter the sex of a baby’s genitals, secondary sex characteristics, and/or brain despite the verdict passed by its chromosomes.
Part 3: Examples - Swyer Syndrome and 46XX Testicular Disorder
Possible gender expression of individuals with Swyer's Syndrome (left) and 46XX testicular disorder (right). Pink indicates typical female expression, and blue indicates typical male expression.
So, what does the Y chromosome do exactly that make a boy in the womb? Turns out, not as much as you’d think. There is a single gene on the Y chromosome that is responsible for turning a fetus into a male. Without that gene, the ‘default sex’ is female (#girlpower). This gene is called the SRY gene, and once active, it triggers development of the testicles and starts the body on the path to becoming a biological male [REF 7].
Individuals with Swyer Syndrom have an error either in SRY gene expression (the ability of the body to read the gene) or gene function (the ability of the gene to actually do what it was meant to do) [REF 8]. This means that, though they have a Y chromosome, there is no genetic trigger to begin the male process. Individuals with the SRY gene typically develop as a biological female (complete with female genitalia and secondary sex characteristics) despite having XY chromosomes. On the flipside, individuals with 46 XX disorder have the SRY gene incorrectly spliced onto their father’s X chromosome – which can activate and cause partial to total masculinization of the genitals and body. This would yield an individual that looks like a male despite having an XX chromosome [REF 8].
“Oh, well that’s rare case” I can hear the skeptics muttering in the background. “You’re just using technicalities to make a loophole, but if the SRY gene does it’s job, then it’ll be a normal male, no questions asked.” Sorry to disappoint you, but we’re not nearly done with this exploration yet. Introducing…androgen insensitivity syndrome.
Part 3: Examples - Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome
Possible gender expression of individuals with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Pink indicates typical female expression, and blue indicates typical male expression. It is important to note that this disorder can take the form of partial formation of the genitals; the binary representation shown here is for teaching purposes only and is not representative of the full spectrum of the disorder.
Now, once the SRY gene has successfully triggered the production of the testicles, the majority of genital and physical masculinization signals come not from the SRY gene, but from testosterone [REF 9]. Testosterone binds to specific receptors in the fetus, triggering their complete formation. However, for individuals with androgen insensitivity syndrome, the receptors in the fetus respond either partially or not at all to testosterone. It’s kind of like having a teenager that just got a new cell phone – you can yell at them to do something all day but they’re not registering a word. So, even though there are signals telling the male genes within the fetus’s genome to activate, the signals aren’t being processed completely. This can result in an improperly formed male genitalia or even female genetalia, similar to patients with Swyer Syndrome. Generally, hormone replacement therapy or gonadectomy is used to help the individual (depending on the severity). Though this condition has a wide range of possible manifestations, it is possible to have an XY chromosome, partial male anatomy, but develop female secondary sex characteristics due to the body’s inability to respond to testosterone [REF 10].
So what have we learned so far? Well, for starters, the XY chromosome doesn’t mean diddly-squat unless the SRY gene can properly trigger. And even if that gene does trigger, whether or not complete masculinization develops is dependent on the hormonal levels in the fetus. An entire suite of genes need to be properly triggered to enable a consistent gender identity across all physical levels in a human – and a malfunction anywhere can tip the scales into androgyny. Now, let’s talk about one final example of how the hormonal signals of gender development can get mixed up – this time in the brain. I’m talking about – you guessed it – transgender people.
Part 3: Examples - Transgender Individuals
(Hypothesized) Possible gender expression of transgender individuals based on current neurological theory. Pink indicates typical female expression, and blue indicates typical male expression. It is important to note the binary representation shown here is for teaching purposes only and is not representative of the full spectrum of gender dysphoria.
We were so close. We almost had everything lined up perfectly! Our chromosomes were read correctly, our SRY gene was working properly (or for females, the SRY gene was absent), and our body was responding adequately to the appropriate hormones. However, there’s one last, very important organ that needs to develop – the brain. Now, I’m going to make a hypothesis, and claim that gender dysphoria is a result of a physiological difference in an individual’s brain that causes it to more closely resemble the brain of the gender they identify as, rather than the one they were given at birth. It is important to note that scientists do not know exactly which gene or part of the brain causes gender dysphoria (this doesn’t mean it’s not real, as no one knows the true biological cause of homosexuality either). However, we have found some support that suggests the brains of transgender individuals might share key structural and behavioral attributes with the brains of the gender they identify as.
For example, multiple studies have found that a particular region of the brain known as the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (sounds like a Harry Potter spell, but let’s just call it BSTc) differs greatly between men and women [REF 11, REF 12]. And additionally, they found that for trans women, the number of neurons in the BSTc more closely resembled cis women! The same was true for their study of transgender men – their BSTc neuronal structure was closer to a cis-man than a cis-woman. You can see the plot from the paper below, showing the different neuron count between homosexual men (HM), heterosexual men (M), heterosexual Female (F), and transgender female (TM). How crazy is that?! Not only do we see that sexual orientation (gay vs straight) has nothing to do with gender identity from a BSTc brain region standpoint, but trans women closely match the distribution observed by normal cis-women! Best of all, they corrected for the possibility that taking hormones could change the structure of the brain, and found that, it did not have a significant effect on the study.
Though this doesn’t come anywhere near a full explanation of why gender dysphoria exists, the statistically significant observation of certain brain regions being built more like the gender we identify as offers some support for our hypothesis. And given how little this topic is studied from a biological perspective, I have to say it was an extremely exciting result to find!
Part 4: Putting It All Together
So where does this leave us? While we don’ t know the exact cause for gender dysphoria, we do know that:
An XY chromosome does not guarantee male genitals.
An XY chromosome and male genitals do not guarantee a male set of secondary sex characteristics.
There is a possibility that brains can be structured in an incompatible way with the genetic code and gender assigned at birth.
(and of course, all of these conclusions hold for the reverse case of XX chromosomes).
Those that try to assert that gender is only defined by the chromosomal structure do not fully appreciate all that goes into creating a fully-formed human. If the right genes are not expressed, the final product can look and exist very differently from its genetic destiny. Epigenetics is an incredible field, and I hope that you’ve learned a bit about the importance of hormonal signaling in the genetic expression of a human. Exposure to the wrong set of hormones can be the difference between a boy or a girl, despite the XX or XY genotype. Not only that, but the genes, genitalia, body, and brain all seem to have their own ‘gender’ levels which can coexist independently of each other in the cases I’ve described. And, of course, these levels do not have to be completely male or completely female, not much about nature is binary all the time.
I hope you learned a lot from this biological analysis of gender. There is a lot more to say on this topic, but since it dips into the more sociological realm, I’m going to save it for next week. Until then, please enjoy this terrible joke I thought up:
What do you call DNA when it is displayed on the grass in someone’s front yard?
*cracks knuckles* Heh heh, alright, here we go. I’ve been wanting to make this article ever since I was able to make a no-questions-asked passable female voice. Contrary to popular belief, for trans women, hormones don’t change their voice – we gotta do that ourselves! It’s tough, but I can confirm that there are few things as gratifying as being gendered correctly over the phone when you are just starting your transition (and look like an androgynous blob). Getting a passable female voice can be that extra ‘oomf’ that you need to cross the gender gap like Columbus crossed the Atlantic (if Columbus was queer and didn’t kill and spread disease to native peoples). For male to female transitioners, their voice can be their most hated quality, so let’s see if we can fix that! But first…some proof that I’m not just all talk (pun absolutely intended).
Learn To Play Go! A Guide for Beginners - YouTube
Tech Skill 8: How to use the empty triangle! - YouTube
Above are two YouTube videos I had made for a strategy game called Go. The content isn’t important, but one is from pre-transition and one is from post-transition (I’m sure you’ll know which is which). Honestly, I rarely look back on these old videos anymore, but I’m pretty shocked when I see them, I couldn’t get my voice to go back that low anymore if I tried. Which takes me to the best part – as long as you work on your voice slowly and safely, it will be just as natural as the voice you have now! Alright, enough pre-ambling (what are we, the Constitution?!). Let’s do this.
What Not to Do
There are a few ground rules we need to cover that you may or may not know already (depending on how much you’ve read about this topic on Reddit). So here are some ways you don’t want to sound/train.
Firstly, you don’t want to go too fast. This process will take weeks to months to perfect. If you feel your voice hurting/aching, STOP and rest. Eventually you will be able to sustain it all day, every day. But if you push your voice too hard you could strain it. And then who’s going to pass flawlessly while talking to telemarketers?? Not you, that’s for sure.
You don’t want to go too high. I’ll touch more on this later, but trans women have a tendency to overcompensate and have the lightest, fairy-est voice they can to try to sound feminine. However. Humans have a stellar intuition for things that seem ‘off’, and if your voice is too high for your speaking mannerisms, body type, or comfort level, they can pick up on that right away. Sometimes going too high can hurt your passing ability rather than help it.
So, let’s divide the article into two sections: pitch and enunciation. Both are just as important, in my opinion, but let’s start with pitch!
Pitch-higher than you'd like, lower than you think
To start off our discussion on pitch, let’s get some inspiration first. I’m going to show you a few women with voices that are deeper in register, to prove my point that you don’t need a super high Mean Girls voice to sound feminine. These videos are of Rosa (the badass detective in Brooklyn99), Tracy Chapman (world-renowned singer of ‘Fast Car’), and the third is my personal hero, Marisa Tomei, in one of my favorite films (My Cousin Vinny).
Best of Rosa | Brooklyn Nine-Nine - YouTube
Tracy Chapman interview + acoustic Give Me One Reason (1996) - YouTube
My Cousin Vinny (5/5) Movie CLIP - Automotive Expert (1992) HD - YouTube
Notice that all these women have voices significantly lower-pitched than a girl from, say, Legally Blonde. Nevertheless, no one would mistake their voice for a male’s. It is from here that I drew my inspiration. They are somewhat bass-ey, they have body and fullness to them, they can be aggressive and take on multiple types of emotions, and they are very authentic. And to me, that’s the most important part of a natural-sounding voice. It needs to be expressive. You can’t speak in a single high-pitched fairy tone for every sentence you say and have it sound natural, it needs to rise and fall. And because of that, it can’t be at the tippy-top of your register (because then you can’t make your voice higher and lower as you speak – there’s nowhere for it to go).
So what pitch should I start at?
The pitch I started at is a middle C on the piano (you can download any piano app or go online and find the pitch). I chose this because I read in an old vocal-feminization blog that the average woman’s pitch for speaking is a middle C. My goal was to get to C and then eventually to E (two notes higher). So what’s the safest way to start doing that? I recommend humming. With humming, you are relaxing your throat and it is being strained less than if you were speaking.
The Pitch Regimen
Okay, so if you want to target a middle C and have it sound natural, there is a set of exercises you need to do first before you start trying to speak, and that is raising the larynx. I came across this tip once in an old YouTube video on training your female voice and it helped me exponentially. So for a period of two weeks or so, before you try humming or speaking at all, you’ll want to practice raising your larynx (basically your Adam’s apple) and keeping it raised indefinitely. So you can start like this:
Swallow (spit or water will do). Do you feel your Adam’s apple rise when you swallow? Okay, great. Now next time you swallow, hold the swallow when your Adam’s apple is at the highest point. You won’t be able to breathe at this moment, because your tongue is helping to hold up your larynx. That’s fine. Hold it for a few seconds, then relax. Then repeat. Try to hold the swallow for as long as you can. And once your larynx starts to hurt/ache, STOP. You’re done for the session. Do this at morning and at night, followed by a glass of warm water.
After about a week or so of doing this, you should start to be able to feel out the muscles that are holding your larynx up more acutely, and this time try to keep it held while relaxing your tongue so you can breathe. It is absolutely possible, and with the right muscle control you will be able to hold up your larynx and relax your tongue. This will eventually become so normal you won’t even notice it, but at first it will feel very weird. Keep at it! Do it once in the morning and once at night for 5-10 minutes (or longer if you feel like your throat is strong enough. Again, DON’T strain. Another way to describe it is the feeling of ‘tucking’ your larynx up and inside your throat.
After 2-3 weeks of doing steps 1 and 2, you can finally start humming. You’ll find with a raised larynx, your voice will actually be higher than you are used to. That’s great! Compare your humming pitch with a piano. Can you hit the range between middle C and E? Remember, you don’t want to go incredibly high – it won’t sound natural. Continue humming around a middle C and a few notes above and below for a couple of weeks until you are comfortable.
If you’ve done steps one through three correctly, you should have a kickass lower-registered-female hum! Great! Have some ice cream to celebrate! Now comes the fun part – actually speaking. On to Part II!
So how do you put a pitch into words?
The best way I’ve found to learn how to have an effective feminine voice is through mimicry. This gives form to the pitch you’ve been humming in a way that you can try to match, rather than you coming up with it on your own. So what should you mimic? Here’s the secret that I don’t think anyone but me has tried, but it worked wonders:
You read that right. Female news anchors, meteorologists, and reporters.
Why? Simply put, the ‘news’ voice is by design more monotone and of a lower register. You don’t have the high-pitched squeal of a comedy show or the well-trained soprano of a singer to try to emulate. It is straightforward, deeper, and easier to imitate for a beginner in the female voice. Here’s a great video that you can use to practice! Just listen to a sentence or two, say it in your own voice while recording on your phone, and play it back, comparing the pitch and speaking style to what you hear. After a few weeks of practice, you should be able to more or less match the pitch and other speaking attributes of the newscaster!
Alice Baxter - BBC World News Presenter 05/02/2014 - YouTube
For the BBC video, you don’t need to worry about the British accent, just try to match the pitch and cadence of the voice!
If you can match the pitch and speaking style of these newscaster (just by mimicking their sentences after raising your larynx and achieving a middle C-E pitch), congratulations, you’re 90% there! Now all that’s left is to personalize it and make it your own!
My favorite part of crafting a new voice was figuring out how to turn my normal style of speaking into a female version of myself. Once you build up a strong foundation, you can start to find female role models that you want to speak like! For me, it was Linda from Bob’s Burgers. Super lame, I know. But my voice is naturally loud, strong, obnoxious, and I love Brooklyn accents. I leaned into the normal attributes of my voice and used Linda’s best speaking moments to figure out how to make a fun, natural female voice. PRO TIP: whoever you decide to mimic, make sure they have a lower voice!! Don’t go trying to mimic Taylor Swift – she’s in way too high of a register. But as I’ve shown, tons of strong, beautiful women have voices in a lower register, so use those for inspiration and go find your voice!
Did you find this helpful? Did you want more information about a particular topic? Be sure to leave a comment or tweet @anerdytransgirl with any input you may have! I hope to hear from you!
One of the reasons transitioning is so tough is because it poses challenges across the entire spectrum of the human experience; it involves a complete upheaval of your basic lifestyle. Between the emotional challenges of figuring out you are trans in the first place, coming out to friends and family, and dealing with potential fallout of relationships, less exciting (but necessary) questions like ‘How am I going to pay for this?’ often go unexamined. Everyone knows that financial troubles can turn an otherwise happy life into an anxiety-ridden experience. Money can’t buy you happiness, but without it, other tasks become exponentially harder (just ask a >20% of divorced couples). I see proper money management as the foundation for a happy life. If you ONLY care about money, you’ll have built an incredibly strong foundation with nothing on top of it, and your life will be empty. However, trying to accomplish a large life goal without any concern for your finances, you will have no metaphorical ‘foundation’ and be left with structural weaknesses that make you feel as if your life is crashing down around you.
Because it is.
Because the foundation wasn’t there.
God I love metaphors!
Anyways, as an engineer, I prefer practical analysis over emotional analysis – I’m right at home studying cash flows and success rates, rather than trying to decipher the cryptic nonsense my heart puts out on a daily basis. So, I wanted to put together a breakdown of all the costs I’ve incurred from my transition and how I managed it with no external help and on a Graduate Student’s salary (about $30,000 / year). I had started straight out of college with almost no savings (maybe 1,000 dollars at most), so outside help wasn’t a factor. So let’s get down to it! The first thing to ask is, how much money did I spend on my transition?
(Just want to add a quick note that this is primarily for male to female transitions, since that’s what I did. I can’t claim to know about female-to-male transitioners, but please comment on any differences you observe!)
Here is a list of all my expenses and the total cost incurred by each during the first 14 months of my transition:
-Laser hair removal – $4,500
-Sperm banking – $40/month * 14 months = $560
-Psychologist – $80/month *14 months = $1,120
-Clothing/Makeup – $700
-Hormones – $25/month*14 months = $350
-Emergency room visits = $300
-Miscellaneous medicine (for stomach problems) = $100
-Medical and Surgery costs = $5,000
Drivers License, SS card, and Birth Cert. Change = $80
-Getting 15% or more on my car insurance – Priceless.
I’m sure I haven’t remembered all of the costs, but this is a fairly good estimate, and cost a grand total of $12,710.
Wow. Okay now I’m shocked. How did I even do that? Seriously, I did not think it would come out to that much when I wrote the article…
The good news is, for most people, a lot of these costs won’t be incurred. I was a special case – the dosage of spiro was doing murder on my stomach and as a result I went through a long list of uncomfortable and expensive tests like an endoscopy and colonoscopy to figure out if anything was damaged. But even without the huge medical costs, for someone without a good job, paying thousands of dollars for transitioning can be crippling if it is not budgeted properly. So, here are some tips that I used to pay for this metamorphosis, and I hope it can help you too!
Six Ways To Save
1. Start saving yesterday
This seems like a no-brainer, but it is incredibly important. If you think there is even a slight chance you would want to do a gender transition, start stocking money away. I was lucky enough to be saving as soon as I started making my own money and had a thousand dollars or two saved up for when my hospital bills started getting out of control. Transitioning is no joke, and everyone reacts to the hormones differently. The more you can save by not eating out, not going out, or not travelling as much, the better.
2. Get hair removal as SOON as possible
This is not only great advice from a financial standpoint, but also from a historic standpoint. As SOON as you are sure that you don’t want any facial hair, get that crap lasered/electrolyzed of ASAP. Facial hair removal is expensive, not covered by insurance, and is a huge giveaway if you are trying to pass. However, the good news is you don’t have to have a psychological diagnosis to get this treatment, since is purely cosmetic. I was doing laser hair removal months before I officially began my transition, and as a result I was able to spread the cost out over a period of a year before all the other medical expenses related to transition started to pile up (it was about $200 per month). It’s funny when I think back on it, I got my facial hair lasered off before I even came out to myself as trans, I thought I was just a guy that really really hated his beard! HA. HAHAHA. Ahhhh….younger me was so delusional…
Point is, the longer you can spread the costs of transitioning out, the less you have to pay per month, and the better your situation will be. I can confirm that not having to worry as much about facial hair when I started to medically transition was a lifesaver.
3. Get a place with good insurance
Another one that sounds like a no-brainer, but the only way I could pay for my medicines and all my procedures was thanks to my graduate school’s insurance. I highly recommend transitioning during graduate school (if you are in that type of field). The insurance benefits are great, and since I was in a STEM field, my stipend of $30k/year was decent enough to live on.
4. Suck it up and get a cheap place to live
We all want to have a nice apartment or house, but unfortunately in today’s day and age, group and apartment housing is the standard. One reason I was able to afford my transition was because my rent was only 450 per month! Now, it was a really bad situation – I was not happy. Crammed in a small room in a house with 4 people I barely knew, and transitioning at the same time was pretty awkward. But for that year, it was what I needed to do. And I’m glad I did it. Once the expenses died down and I got a good job, I was able to leave. But not throwing away half your paycheck on rent is essential if you want to transition without as much stress.
5. Transition when your student loans are in grace.
For student loans, there is a ‘grace period’ of 6 months to a year when you don’t have to make any payments on them. If you haven’t graduated yet and are thinking about transitioning, I highly recommend figuring yourself out and getting started so you don’t have to pay loans and rent at the same time. This is another advantage of graduate programs – your loans can be in grace for the entirety of your education! So I didn’t need to pay college loans while all this other stuff was happening!
6. Make a budget
As scary as it is, you need to know what your up against if you want to pull this off without a ton of stress. Tally up your projected expenses and income, and see how much you have to work with. Predict how many months you’ll have to save before you can start if you aren’t making enough to cover everything. See if you need better insurance before you can start. Making transitioning an actionable, structured plan can take away a ton of the intimidation factor that it usually comes packaged with.
These are all the hard rules I could think of that helped me, and just to show you it is possible, here’s a table of my monthly expenses from that time period! I hope this helps, now go set up your finances for a fabulous transition! Go get em, Kings and Queens!
After spending about five hours straight writing and building my website after work while listening to the gayest songs I could think of for motivation (look up ‘Love Today’ by Mika, you’ll thank me later), I finally built the ‘keywords’ feature and enabled my blog to be searchable by Google. I knew a site takes a few days to infiltrate the hive mind of the internet, but I figured I’d search “nerdytransgirl” for kicks to see what came up. What showed up was enough to make me grimace and look slightly away at an imaginary camera a’ la The Office.
It was porn. Lots and lots of porn.
I couldn’t believe it. Trans people were already sexualized enough, with ancient bastions of trans knowledge like “Susan’s Place” showing a scantily clad woman on its header. And here I was, trying to make a nice wholesome blog, and my main keyword competition involves ‘nerdy trans girls’ getting railed harder than literal train tracks. I won’t go into much more detail, at the risk of losing my audience members to my, admittedly, more visually stimulating competition. It’s a bit demoralizing, but hey, all this means is I have a new goal: rank high enough in searches to beat them out! Pornhub vs. Michaela: physical vs mental, corporation vs grassroots, down and dirty vs awkwardly flirty, vibrators vs mind craters, the battle of the century. Get your tickets now.
This conundrum, however, did get me thinking. My sexuality as a trans woman has been…tumultuous to say the least. Even though the thought of being a girl was soft and comforting to me at the age of 6-8, once puberty hit, a young man’s budding sex drive combined with my natural dysphoria created a high-octane mixture of what-the-bedazzle-is-happening. The sexualization of trans women, crossdressers, and gender non-conforming people that ran rampant on the 90’s internet was the spark that turned this high-octane mixture into a fire that I wouldn’t go near with a ten foot pole. I never saw trans people advertised as anything more than sex objects, and it was incredibly hard to combine this with my inner desire to be a woman. I thought I was a freak, I didn’t know why I wasn’t google searching the same things that other boys my age were searching. And when the media, the internet, and your household had mocked these people and labelled them sexual degenerates, it’s a wonder I transitioned at all.
Once I began my transition and my body’s chemistry began to shift in line with my brain’s natural habitat, those feelings disappeared faster than a roaming legendary Pokemon. My sexuality felt more natural and my need for emotional companionship increased tenfold. Now, after almost two years of hormones, I’m willing to challenge anyone who thinks that I’m a pervert to a google-search-history competition. Try me; the wholesomeness of my incognito tabs will blow your mind. Now, to be clear, a healthy sex drive is NOT a bad thing – it’s important for the human experience. But once I began transitioning and I finally felt the effects of testosterone reduction, I no longer needed to indulge that part of me as severely as before. My sexuality had always been intertwined with my dysphoria and envy of women, and this coupling has made me inadvertently stay far away from it as I’ve transitioned.
Dysmorphia + Dysphoria = Chaos
There was another assault on my feelings toward sexuality during my transition, which manifested as the form of body dysmorphia. Dysmorphia can plague anyone, all across the gender spectrum. Especially during the beginning of my transition, I didn’t feel attractive, I didn’t feel sexy, and I didn’t feel like I would be worth anyone’s time on an intimate level. For trans people, the pressure of meeting societal expectations of attractiveness and ‘passing’ as their true gender gives real-life consequences to feelings of body dysmorphia. Small breasts and broad shoulders, or, for female-to-males, the presence of breasts and fineness of facial hair are more than just feelings of cosmetic inadequacy. To the trans mind, we correlate dysmorphia/dysphoria to real consequences that can harm them physically and mentally as we try to live our lives. Rather than engage in this pressure to overtly-sexualize myself, I chose to veer in the opposite direction – capitalizing on my sense of style, good genes, and small frame to craft a passable but platonic self-image. However, many trans people feel forced to undergo expensive facial reconstruction and breast augmentation surgeries due to the constant pressure to appear like a normal woman/man.
As my body and mind have matured from running puberty2.exe, I’m beginning to start chipping away at those feelings of inadequacy. However, the oversexualization of trans women is a societal roadblock that I’m still working to overcome. As a trans woman, am I allowed to flirt with someone that I find attractive? Do I need to tell them I’m trans before I flirt with them? The answers to these questions change depending on where you are in the country. As a Bostonian, I can be fairly loose with outing myself. But the rules may change if I moved to, say, Kansas. Society’s view of transgender citizens is incredibly important for both the physical and mental health of the community, and I hope our country can continue its grassroots movement towards acceptance of gender identity, regardless of passability. In my opinion, it would do wonders to reduce the tendency of trans men and women to hypersexualize themselves for fear of not passing completely.
As I’m wrapping up this essay (which I did NOT expect to be writing at 11 pm on a Friday), I want trans people to engage in healthy sexuality that is not spurred on by fear. My hope is we can see ourselves as more than just how well we pass.
As for me, I don’t want to continue letting society’s expectations of what I should be dictate how I feel about my own sexuality. What started as an adamant rejection of transgender women’s hypersexualization in media has become something that is stagnating my growth as a person. Wait…is the conclusion of my essay that I need to engage in my sexuality more? Hold on…
*Re-reads* Well darnit. You win this round, Pornhub.