In case you missed it, yesterday I posted the following status update on Facebook:
I realize this is not a format that everyone will see, but I am tired of trying to write the perfect eloquent thing, so I'm just going to come out and say it. I am transgender. I don't know if I'm a man but I know trying to be a woman never worked for me. Male pronouns until further notice, please. Questions are welcome as long as they are not about my wiener or lack thereof.
I got a lot of support, but because of the nature of Facebook, I know that there were a lot of people who saw it and didn't respond, and still more people who never saw it in the first place. So I wanted to post it again in a more permanent location. I also wanted to address some potential questions that people may be wondering but aren't sure if it's okay to ask. (For some reason, many of the people I've come out to have been deeply apologetic for asking any questions at all, even respectful ones such as "What pronouns would you like?". Guys, when you hear trans people say we are tired of answering questions we mean we are tired of being treated as freak shows and research projects. Asking questions to help you be more respectful is a good thing.) Rather than leave you to guess what I am comfortable answering, I'm just going to go ahead and write out a bunch of things I know some people will be wondering.
But I am only going to be answering questions that pertain specifically to me. If you don't have any trans friends, if you don't even know what I mean by trans, or if any part of your concept of trans people involves the phrase "the surgery", I'm going to ask that you read a more general FAQ, such as this one, before proceeding. If you've never even heard the word transgender before now, please also take a deep breath and get a nice cup of tea or something. Give yourself time to process the idea that I am not a woman before overwhelming yourself with a bunch of new and somewhat academic information about gender.
Ready? Okay, let's do this thing.
Q: How do you pronounce 'Elisha'?
A: Hopefully this is clearer now that people know I'm not a girl, but it's not pronounced like 'Alicia'. It sounds more like 'Elijah'. In fact, I considered the name Elijah, but Elisha was more gender-neutral, is part of my family history, and has since grown on me quite a bit :)
Q: What pronouns are you most comfortable with?
A: Ah... when you ask which ones I want you to use, the answer is male ones, please. I don't know that I'm most comfortable with those, though. I use them because they make clear that I'm not a woman. I've really never found a set of pronouns that I felt appropriately suited my gender, and to be honest, being called "he" still feels a little awkward (I occasionally look around to see who people are talking about, then realize they meant me!) But it's what works in my life right now.
Q: What do you mean you're not sure you're a man? How can you not know?
A: Some people have a very strong internal sense of what gender they are, and some people don't. Mine is fairly weak. Figuring out who I am has been entirely a process of trial-and-error, mostly involving taking gradual steps toward a more male presentation and finding that each of those steps made me feel a little better, even if I didn't think they would from the outset. I'm still in the middle of that process, and I don't know how far I'll need to go toward the role of "man" before I find the place that feels most right.
Q: But I've known you since we were practically both babies and you weren't even a tomboy and you had like 400 Barbies and...
A: If you were part of my circle of friends in elementary or middle school, think back to some of the boys we hung out with. The ones who did gymnastics and skipped rope with the girls? Did any of that mean they weren't boys? True, I never complained about not wanting to be a girl or about wanting to be a boy. Partly that's because I didn't have any sort of physical dysphoria until puberty (which is common). Fact is, some trans people know they're trans early on, some are fine living as the gender they're assigned at birth until they get older and the pressure to be a "traditional" man or woman increases, and some always feel vaguely wrong and never really know why. I'm a bit of both of those last two. (And some of the people who are quite sure they're boys still like to play with dolls.)
Q: Hang on. I never heard you talking about any of this gender stuff until you started hanging around [Michael/Kyle/Winter/those people you live with/the Tumblrs] all the time. Are you sure they don't just have you confused?
A: You've got me there. It's a well-known fact that if you hang out with trans people they will get their trans cooties all over you and turn you trans almost instantly. We are coming for you. Hide your children.
All kidding aside, it's true that over the past year or so the number of trans people in my life has increased dramatically, and for those of you who haven't known what was up with me, I can sort of see how it could look like I got all these trans friends and wanted to play too. But no, that's totally backwards (and kind of insulting). Since I realized I was having some questions about my gender, I've naturally become much closer to the trans people who were already in my life, and have sought out others as well. (This all seems pretty obvious to me, but I know it's going to come up.) That said, without support from my trans friends and housemates I would not have found the necessary knowledge or courage to explore who I really am. I probably would have just continued living unhappily as a girl, not knowing what was wrong. So in a way, yes, this is partly their 'fault.' But that's a good thing.
Q: Why didn't you tell me sooner? Don't you trust me?
A: I know some people are going to be hurt that I didn't feel comfortable enough to let them know what was going on with me. Really, it has a lot less to do with trust and a lot more to do with what knowledge level I felt people had about trans stuff. I've been the most open with people who have enough understanding of gender that I wouldn't have to explain a bunch of stuff to them, because a few months ago the idea of being questioned was just too daunting. I couldn't handle other people's confusion on top of my own. But I feel more secure in my identity now, so here we are.
Q: Is this why you moved to Boston?
A: I moved to Boston for a lot of reasons - I have a lot of unschooling friends in New England, I needed a new start after my mom died, the job prospects seemed better here, Florida is just too fucking hot for me (my friends can vouch for this - I start whining as soon as the temps go above like 70F), etc. More importantly, I couldn't pay my bills and I had people in Boston willing to give me a place to stay for free. But yes, I was drawn here in part because I knew I wasn't going to have any freedom to explore my gender in Florida, and I had a trans friend here who insisted things would be better if I moved north. I saw that he had a level of comfort and freedom of expression that I couldn't dream of in Florida, and I wanted that. So all of that combined to make Boston a really appealing place. But mostly, I moved here because something deep in my gut was screaming for me to be in Massachusetts (even before the gender stuff consciously came up), and my gut is usually right about these things.
Q: You've had some emotional crises lately. Is this what that was about?
A: Not directly. At least not in the sense of feeling that my life is going to turn out badly because of being trans, or being unable to accept myself as a trans person. I've got relatively good self-esteem about that. I'm also not terribly worried about people rejecting me because I don't want to be friends with anyone who has a problem with trans people in the first place. Most of my emotional issues lately have been a matter of being lonely. Some of that just has to do with being in a new city and missing my mom and stuff like that. Some of it does have to do with gender, in the sense that I've deliberately isolated myself in order to have a safe space to sort this stuff out. Some of it also has to do with hormonal issues which can make life hell for FTM-spectrum people, which then exacerbate the sense of loneliness and feeling trapped. So I don't think being trans is causing my problems, but it certainly isn't doing a lot to help them either.
Q: I thought trans guys were hypermasculine fist-bumpin' dudebros. You are clearly not.
A: *snort* You clearly haven't met any of the trans guys I know. I mean, yeah there are trans guys who are naturally very masculine, and there are probably trans guys who feel they need to 'prove' they're men by acting more masculine than they really are. (And no, it's not up to you or me to decide which is which.) But I have always been and will always be a sensitive queer little nerd, and most of the trans guys I hang out with are as well. Actually, most all of the people I hang out with are queer or nerdy or both. That's just how I roll.
Q: But why transition if you're still going to wear glitter and nail polish and listen to godawful synthpop and get called a fag all the time?
A: Transition isn't about making yourself fit into the most privileged cultural norm you can think of. If it was, trans women and gay trans men wouldn't exist. Transition is about making who you are on the outside match the person you feel like on the inside. I am transitioning to a person who is going to be seen as a fag because, to put it bluntly, I feel like a fag. Always have. I'm fully aware that I will lose certain types of privilege (and gain others that I don't necessarily want), but the tradeoff is that as I become more comfortable with myself I will gain the self-esteem and confidence to deal with that.
Q: Didn't you used to identify as a lesbian? Are you straight now?
A: Yeah, I did identify as a lesbian for a couple of years there. I think what happened is that I always had this powerful sense that I was somehow queer, and while I always identified with gay men, I didn't have access to that identity while living as female. At the time, "lesbian" was the best word I had for "I am very queer and proud of it". Meanwhile, deep down I was always aware that I was still often attracted to male-identified people, and that there was something queer about the way in which I was attracted to them. But I had no frame of reference to understand that about myself until I first understood that I wasn't a woman. I've been physically attracted to many kinds of people, but mostly only romantically interested in guys. I have no idea whether that means I'm a gay guy or what, and I don't really care. I love who I love, and "queer" is a perfectly fine label as far as I'm concerned.
Q: Are you just going to come out as a totally different thing a year from now?
A: Possibly. But if I do, that doesn't mean the identity I'm using right now isn't valid too. Ideally, labels are like clothing - you pick out one that fits, wear it until it doesn't, and then you get to go shopping again.
Q: I'm a guy and I used to date you or want to date you or we made out one time or something. Am I gay?
A: I don't know. Are you?
Q: I think you might be going to Hell.
A: No I'm not because Kate Bornstein made a deal with the devil on my behalf. (And yours too.) So there.
On a more serious note, I don't personally believe God creates people a particular way only to turn around and punish them for it. Not to sound snotty, but if there's really a God that hates queer and trans people, that means I'm more loving than that God, and I sure as hell don't want to worship any deity who is less loving than I am. So I'm going to bet on any God being more loving than me, because I can be a fairly judgemental person and frankly I think God can do better than that.
Q: So... what changes?
A: Honestly? Not much, beyond my appearance, name, and pronouns. (And I promise not to freak out if you slip up on my pronouns, as long as you are trying.) I might encounter discrimination and have some tough times, and I'll hopefully gain more self-esteem and a stronger sense of who my friends are. But ultimately I am going to be the same person I've always been, who is really goofy 95% of the time and occasionally says something profound and confuses everyone because I seemed to be mostly air and fluff up until then, the same person who eats too much Chinese food and prattles on about diseases and quotes The Simpsons out of context. All of that stays the same. (Whether that is a promise or a threat is an exercise for the reader.) I'll just look a little different and feel a lot better about myself.
Q: Why is this so long?
A: Because gender is a very complicated thing that most people have been taught to see as very simple. Also, I like talking about myself. Especially after nearly a year of hiding myself away.