Pronoun mishaps

I think I’ve mentioned here before that my mom, despite being really supportive of me and mostly transitioning over to introducing me as her son, using the correct name for me for years now, etc. still has occasional trouble with my pronouns. It makes me wonder what language she uses for me when I’m not around, if nearly nine years of practice hasn’t otherwise sunk in. Anyone else in my life who hadn’t been able to make the switch would have been cut out or at least given the slow fade long ago, but I haven’t been able to talk to my mom about this, even though it does hurt when it happens.

She was in town for a brief visit earlier this week, and before she came I was trying to gear myself up for a conversation if she slipped up again, because I’m tired of not saying anything even though that’s easier. But it turned out, happily, that she didn’t make that mistake during the visit. Maybe she’ll get my pronouns wrong again in the future, but at least it didn’t happen this time, and that’s a small victory.

I’ve mentioned to a couple of friends recently that pronoun mishaps rarely happen in my daily life; the beard helps with people I meet for the first time (that’s why I grew the damn thing in the first place, so good job beard), and pretty much anyone in my life either never knew me when folks used female pronouns for me or made the switch long ago. A lot of Scarleteen users assume all the volunteers are women so I get a lot of “thanks ma’am” on our direct services, but that isn’t really a commentary on me as much as a reflection of their assumptions.

However! This week I’m pretty sure I was mispronouned at least semi-deliberately; the person in question isn’t someone I know well or see often but has known the proper language to use for years now. The fact that this person is a jerk isn’t the point here, though; what was interesting was how it felt to overhear his comment. I was startled, but then it just seemed amusing; I felt it was more of a commentary on his sad life than a reflection of my failings as a person.

Yeah, it hurts when my mom uses “she” for me, years after I’ve asked her not to. Some douchebag I don’t like misgenders me? Not my problem.

It makes me think, though, how hard it felt to enforce my preferred language in the days when not many people in my life were using it, even after I’d told them. I have a huge amount of respect for trans folks who are able to interrupt others with the proper name or pronoun when the wrong one’s used, who remind friends over and over again when they mess up, who don’t just give up after a certain point.

Because honestly, that’s what I did, in a lot of situations. I tried to correct people in the moment, as soon as I heard a mistake, but often I’d find it so jarring or frustrating that my body would freeze up for a second, and the moment would be lost. And when some friends continued to use the wrong language for me after a few rounds of corrections, I just…gave up on correcting them. I wasn’t very confident in those days and assumed that a general failure to respect my request meant I just wasn’t passing well enough and I should stop expecting anything until I did.

And yes, I fucking hate hate hate the term “passing” now, but it was The Big Goal for a while. Even though I wasn’t sure I actually was a man, I at least wanted to be read as not-a-woman, and most people really only consider two options so if I wanted to avoid being seen as one thing I had to go with the other. I didn’t know any other way to get friends, co-workers, and customers to use language I was comfortable with other than convincing them, somehow, that I deserved it. And the more people messed up around me, the less I was sure I deserved it.

It’s a luxury, now, to hear someone deliberately being rude to me and be able to shrug it off. Some of that comes from being more confident, some of it’s a lack of regard for this particular person’s opinions, and a lot of it is the fact that it is a rare occurrence at this point. When it happened several times a day for years, it was much harder to deal with.

This is why I get angry when people talk about how hard it is to adjust to a different name or pronoun set for a loved one. Sometimes it might be a challenge, sure! But like any other tough thing, you practice it if it’s important to you and it’ll become easier fairly quickly. It took me a while to get the hang of not using gendered pronouns at all for my partner; before I really got on the singular-they train I often arranged sentences to avoid pronouns altogether, which is an interesting challenge that resulted in some very stilted-sounding sentences. But I did practice, because it was important to someone I cared about, and now it’s not even something I have to think about when I’m talking.

There are people who will wave off mistakes and say they don’t care, and maybe they don’t! But I did that too and was lying every time. I just didn’t feel confident enough to admit how hurt I was. Even an honest slip of the tongue was painful, but mistakes coming from people who clearly weren’t making an effort were like a slap in the face.

This week’s incident was more of an annoying poke than a slap, thankfully.

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A Self-Love Valentine

I tend to have a pretty easy time loving other people. I can sometimes be slow to make friends, but I have a deep and fierce love for them once that connection is established. I want to protect, support, and hug my friends and loved ones as much as possible.

If I were a dog, I’d be something big, floppy, and doofy like a golden retriever, bouncing all over and trying to express my affection in the biggest, tail-waggiest ways possible. Hopefully, that gives y’all an idea of the sort of friend-thusiasm I bring to the picture. And with so many of my loved ones not local at the moment, my Big Friend Love Feelings are extra big right now, all puffed up by distance and longing.

I have a much, much harder time showing love – or even, at times, basic kindness – to myself. I realize this isn’t a problem only I have; plenty of folks who are absolute champs at loving others have a hard time focusing that love on themselves. But it’s become clear lately, as I’m finally aware of and working to claw myself out of a pretty scary depression-pit, that I’m sorely out of practice on this front. I am overflowing with compliments I want to pay to my friends, ones I believe are true with every fiber of my being, but I know I’d be skeptical of many of them if they were turned around and applied to me.

So! Here’s a scary yet probably useful exercise: a list of things I can honestly say I 100% love about myself:

  • I can make some damn tasty candy & baked goods
  • I am a world-class excellent smoocher (having a partner tell me “years later you’re still the best kisser I’ve encountered,” and having that pronouncement stand up to repeat testing, is still one of the best compliments I’ve ever received)
  • I’m good at silly voices!
  • My legs are huge and muscly, good for climbing hills and walking long distances
  • I have a cute face
  • I am cheerfully enthusiastic not just about my friends but about my interests/fandoms/favorite everythings
  • NAIL POLISH
  • I take pretty good pictures

It’s hard to say so many good things about myself! But I won’t apologize for them, even if I’m internally squirming and feeling incredibly awkward about it (spoiler alert: I am). I’m out of practice, but no time like the present to get back into the habit of being good to myself, right?

If any of y’all want to lavish yourselves with compliments here, on twitter, or just secretly in a quiet corner of your home, GO FOR IT! You’re fabulous!

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Selective memory

Early last week, I received a puzzling friend request on Facebook from someone named Brannon. I didn’t recognize his last name, but the only person I know of by that name is the guy who, as my section leader, sexually harassed me during my first (and only) year in college marching band. I double-checked with a friend to be sure and yep, it was the same person.

The actual details of what I put up with from this guy are pretty hazy, both because it all happened in the fall of 2000 and because I felt so weird and uncomfortable with the situation that I tried to push it all out of my mind as much as possible. But there was a general cloud of sexual harassment and “how far can we push things with the younger female members” attitude that hung over a lot of the sax section parties that semester. This is when I identified & presented as a woman so I was in that targeted group; I don’t know if I was singled out or not, but I certainly got plenty of unwanted attention from this guy (and a junior who was assistant section leader, to a lesser extent). Some other first-year students were dating or interested in other section members, so now that I think about it, I wonder if they were considered “off-limits” in a way that I was not in those first few weeks of classes.

There was one party in which we went through one of those “purity tests” that used to be popular online; I don’t know that this would be terrible in all situations but it just seemed like a transparent excuse on the part of the older students to try to get the newbies to disclose our sexual history and for them to brag about their “conquests” to us. Sharing stories about sex with friends can be a lot of fun! Feeling pressured to share sexual stories and details when you’ve said you aren’t comfortable doing so is no fun at all.

That same night, I’d decided to wear a sweatshirt and no bra underneath, just to see if that could be comfortable. (I think I got the idea from a book I had read shortly before that night, although I don’t know now why I thought a sweatshirt would make going bra-less any less painful for largish-breasted me. Ow.) I thought the shirt was bulky enough that this wouldn’t be noticeable to anyone else. Instead, Brannon called attention to it the moment I arrived and he and others called me “European” for the rest of the night and from time to time after that. I guess that’s because European people don’t wear bras that much? I was too embarrassed at the time to examine the name-calling too closely, but I believe that was the reasoning behind it. That was my last attempt to leave the house without a bra on until I had chest reconstruction years later.

These parties were generally at Brannon’s apartment off-campus, and those of us who lived in the dorms on-campus would get people with cars to drive us. Chapel Hill didn’t have great public transit, so we couldn’t really get to and from these places without help. At the end of one of these parties, all the people with cars were too drunk to drive the first-year students back to campus, so we all had to stay at the apartment over night. Somehow I wound up sharing Brannon’s bed with him.

I have to admit now that I really don’t understand how this happened. I wasn’t romantically or sexually interested in him, and in fact found him intimidating. I know some other people were on a pull-out couch, but I don’t know how I wound up in his bedroom. Did I volunteer? Did he suggest it? Was it just the only other option once the couch was spoken for? Whatever the reason, I did sleep there. I honestly can’t remember much about what happened. I know he touched me a little, and that I was facing away from him and trying to ignore him as much as I could. I think he tried to talk to me, maybe talking me into something, and gave up by saying something like “you’re acting like a kid” or “you’re so young” before falling asleep.

Maybe it was only the fact that I was still seventeen – something I’m pretty sure he knew – that kept him from pressing further. I don’t know. I feel a little sick trying to remember anything more concrete about that night.

What made me furious, once I got over the initial shock of seeing his name, is that I bet he doesn’t even remember any of this, or that if he does, he just thinks of it as “joking around” or “harmless fun.” What consequences would he have ever faced from his behavior, to make him examine his actions? Why on earth would he even try to contact me? We weren’t friends, and I haven’t seen him since he graduated in 2001.

And sure, I just blocked him without responding to the friend request and went angrily about my day. I was able to get mad, feel grossed out, and then move on. But still, I’m angry that the burden of dealing with those feelings is still mine when I wasn’t the one who was doing anything wrong in the first place. That I felt so overwhelmed and powerless that I did my best to forget everything about the situation for years.

I’m also mad because he could have been much worse to me and still, our roles now would be the same: I’d be dealing with anger, shame, and confusion and he’d be cluelessly trying to friend me on social media more than a decade later.

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The Legion of Genders wants YOU!

This week a friend of mine shared with me this awful article on Catholic.org that straight-up says transgender folks have a “demonic” philosophy and compares us to mixed-breed dogs. I think if I had any sort of background in Catholicism, or still considered myself a Christian, this might have been really hurtful to read, but since I don’t see the Catholic church as any sort of authority or relevant force in my life, my initial reaction was just to laugh at it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still offensive and disturbing, but it’s so over the top in its hand-wringing panic that it’s hard for me not to be a little amused. The first line of the article sounds like it’s introducing a new superhero comic: “There is a new Legion among us in the form of transgender community, a legion of genders.” Can I please sign up to be a member of the Legion of Genders? Because that sounds like FUN TIMES. I’m pretty sure the outfits would be fantastic, and I figure a bunch of my friends would be members too, so there’s really no downside that I can see.

Much of what is clearly meant to be shocking and upsetting to the reader sounds pretty positive to me:

The more important reality is not our sex, but our gender, which is something one decides for one’s self. … And all these decisions are equally good.

…the body is, rather, the raw material we have to use however we see fit.  We are not answerable to God, or to society, or to anyone else but ourselves, for the use of our body.

…whether one wants to have the gender of a man, or the gender of [a] woman, or in between (a bizarre gender called bigender or genderqueer), or anywhere within that wide continuum is one’s choice.

Maybe not all the wording I would have chosen, but sure! That all sounds great to me, and I don’t see how any of this is immoral or or unnatural. But nope, apparently by holding these beliefs, I am now akin to a labradoodle.

A demonic labradoodle. Doesn’t that produce an entertaining mental image?

I don’t want to downplay the actual harm I think this sort of article can inflict, especially to those who are Catholic. It seems like a perfect way to instill self-hatred in trans folks and a lack of compassion and acceptance in their families and loved ones. As I don’t see this author in particular or the church in general as any sort of actual authority in my life, it’s easy for me to laugh this nonsense off, but I realize it’s harder for many people, and my heart goes out to them. They’re welcome to join me in the Legion of Genders, though, and help decorate our Fortress of Sparkletude.

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Never Enough

I’m still enjoying my volunteer work with Scarleteen! It hasn’t quite been a year since I started volunteering but I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot; I’ve written a few advice columns and have been able to work with a lot of users. I still find myself getting frustrated by all of the pregnancy risk questions we get, but ultimately I blame poor education (especially abstinence-only programs that provide flat-out FALSE information) more than the young people who are receiving that education.

Often I find it most challenging to work with users who’ve been raped or sexually assaulted. I’m always glad when people get in touch with us because as horrible as it is that they have been assaulted, I’m glad people are reaching out for help when that happens, and I also feel like it’s a chance to use some of the training I got from the OCRCC in Chapel Hill before I moved away.

But I sometimes dread these interactions because I feel like it’s SO important for me to get things right when I’m talking to survivors. I want to give them space to make choices for themselves while offering help or resources they may not know to ask for. Often their circumstances are such that there aren’t a lot of great options open to them, or they don’t feel very supported in their daily lives. There’s only so much I as a stranger on the internet can do for them. Of course I know that, and I don’t actually expect myself to make everything magically better. It’s just that it hurts to know that I can’t.

One user’s been struggling to deal with a recent traumatic rape with the added complication that her family isn’t being particularly sensitive to her needs or desires; when she’s talking to ST volunteers I feel like I just see her apologizing over and over again for how she’s feeling, for “disrupting” her family by asking for support she needs, and for hating her attacker.

Possibly the worst part for me to see is how affected she seems to be by the standard victim-blaming narrative around rape survivors; she expresses a lot of doubt about how the incident might have been her fault, maybe she secretly wanted it, etc. And I just want to cry and cry when I see this sort of thing. I know all I can do is let her know it’s ok to be angry, that she isn’t to blame, and try to help her access better support if I can. But I never feel like I can do enough. And when I hear users internalizing and saying the sort of horrible, baseless, victim-blaming bullshit about rape and assault that I’d expect to hear from Republican candidates in an election year, it just breaks my heart.

I spoke with someone yesterday who accessed the chat service a few weeks back; she’s trying to find resources while stuck at a boarding school that blocks out “adult” sites (which of course ST is classified as, despite that making no sense). She’s worried that both school officials and her own family would blame her for her assault and that she’d be punished for it, and has almost no privacy or freedom of movement at school, so there isn’t a lot I can do for her.

I think I figured out the school based on her area and I won’t pretend I don’t have fantasies of lighting the entire place on fire with magical, rage-induced fire breath. Whether or not it’s true that this school would retract a student’s scholarship as punishment for being raped, the fact that she’s so afraid it would happen that she’s terrified to talk to anyone about it means the school has already failed by not letting the student body know they can feel safe talking about assault with faculty.

I had a little more time to talk with this user than I had the first time she came into chat, and while I still feel like I didn’t have many helpful ideas, I think we were able to come up with a few options this time. And she did thank me at the end, even though I honestly wanted to apologize for not being able to do more. I know it’s best to focus on what I can do to help users, which is often quite a bit! And certainly if someone leaves a discussion feeling hopeful enough to let me know I was able to help, that’s really all I can ask for.

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Normalization & self-awareness

It’s no secret that I am a fan of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast. One of the things I really dig about it is the fact that there’s a sweet romance between two men on the show, but the podcast isn’t about being gay, or coming out, or anything. It’s just one of many things going on. And I really love that! I do enjoy a good coming out story, or stories about gay or queer people where that’s more of a focus, but honestly I tend to prefer narratives that just happen to have Folks Who Aren’t Straight as part of the story.

I think the relationship between Cecil and Carlos is a big draw for most fans, especially since most fandom-related same-sex relationships are all subtext and not spelled out explicitly in the source material, but of course there are people who enjoy the podcast but object to the romance. Earlier this week, Night Vale’s creator Joseph Fink shared an email from a fan who’s “not a homophobe” but was “disgusted” by the romance plot, explaining that:

“By doing this you are trying to normalize homosexuality, teens listen to your show and if they see things like that they will think its [sic] normal and that everybody does it.”

To which I say: EXACTLY! I sure hope they do. What a pleasant thought, that young people might find a normal part of life represented in the media they consume and enjoy.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the amount of exposure I had to any sort of queerness as a teenager, and that amount is “almost none.” I knew of one person who was openly gay in my high school, and while we were in a few classes together, we weren’t close. I wasn’t really aware of any media that talked about what it was like to be gay or bisexual, or that even explored what it even meant to be anything other than straight. Putting it like that I feel a little silly, because of course I knew what homosexuality and bisexuality were as concepts, but not in a way that let me identify the feelings I was having as a sign that maybe those concepts could describe me.

I thought queerness in general was just fine, although I kind of wonder now why I felt so strongly about something I didn’t have any real experience with. Maybe it was just Young Mo’s sense of fairness?  I even had a really awkward conversation with my dad in which I tried to stand up for gay people and he told me that I was too young to know what I was talking about (I was maybe twelve or thirteen) and, bizarrely, brought up the “if I wanted to marry Sugar (our dog), would that be ok too?” argument. I may have been young and mostly clueless about gay folks, but I was smart enough to realize that half-assed line of reasoning was bullshit, at least. Even though I was certain that everyone I knew, myself included, was straight, I felt that it was important to be ready to be supportive if someone came out to me.

In late middle school, I used to spend a lot of time hanging out at an art gallery in the town south of mine. I just liked wandering from room to room, staring at the art pieces and sometimes chatting with James-Ben, the owner, who put up with me talking too much the way that awkward kids do when they want adults to think they’re mature and interesting. If I ever irritated him with my presence, he never let on, and I’m still thankful for that. Sometimes his business partner Daniel was there, and while I didn’t talk with him as much, he seemed nice enough. Daniel was a painter; he’d painted a really lovely portrait of James-Ben that was hanging in the gallery. I’m sure I thought something like “oh wow, what good friends these guys are!” when I first saw that painting.

For a few weeks I took a watercolor class after-hours at the gallery, and during one of the sessions, the instructor took us into the largest gallery room to show us the brushwork on one of her paintings. As we were looking at it, one of the side doors opened and Daniel came out wearing a bathrobe and holding a mug, and wandered over to the little kitchen with a cat trailing behind him. It was undeniably domestic, and I suddenly realized that not only did Daniel live at the gallery, but that he and James-Ben lived there together. As partners! As GAY partners! I was a little surprised, but honestly more than anything else I was excited. I knew actual Gay People! How had I never noticed before? It felt like a very important moment, and while I don’t know that I ever really talked to anyone about this discovery, it felt special to me and made me even more confused any time someone talked about gay people being gross or immoral. The only ones I knew were sweet middle-aged men who put up with my dorky self hanging around their art gallery! How could that be a problem?

Looking back on my high school self, it’s pretty clear that I was experiencing attraction to some of my female friends, and just didn’t have the understanding or context to really understand those feelings. I had a pen pal for several years who lived in Michigan (I lived in central Tennessee at the time) and who I developed a pretty close friendship with over an intense first few months of writing. After we’d been sending letters for about a year, she came to our town to visit, and I remember having the vague notion that we might kiss each other when she arrived. I had a recurring fantasy of the two of us slow-dancing together in my bedroom, and then kissing, even though I remember at the time thinking “well, am I attracted to her? I guess I’m not, I don’t like girls that way.” But somehow, the vivid fantasy remained, although it faded once we met; we got along great, but I guess having a more concrete image of my friend helped that crush to evaporate.

Much stronger was the crush I had a friend one year ahead of me in school – she was outgoing, creative, and friendly in a way I really clicked with. We became close very quickly and in true high school girl fashion wrote each other piles of notes (none of which survive to this day, sadly) that we would stick in each other’s lockers and sign “YFL,” which stood for “your forbidden love.”

YOUR FORBIDDEN LOVE.

I don’t recall exactly how that tradition started, but we specifically acknowledged that it was a reference to the fact that we couldn’t actually be in love with each other because we were both girls. And beyond making that a huge ongoing joke… we never talked about it. It’s very clear to me, when I look back, what was going on, but at the time I just didn’t have the sort of self-awareness or general queer-awareness to see it. I think at the time I just thought “oh yeah, it’s normal to feel this strongly about your smart and beautiful friend with an amazing smile and awesome hair who is just fantastic, right?” I just never made the leap from those feelings to the fact that they were just as strong as the ones I was having for boys during that same time.

My partner and I have been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the past few months, after years of peer pressure from friends. I’m enjoying it more than I thought I would, to be honest, although maybe not as much as some of my friends do. We recently finished season 4, and while there some parts of it that weren’t that exciting to me (both Riley & Adam = boooooriiiiiing), I was super-excited for Tara to show up. I actually really dig Oz as a character and was sad to see him go, but: TARA! So great. I’ve been following along with Mark’s reviews over at Mark Watches and once Willow and Tara’s relationship was finally acknowledged, it was interesting to note just how many people in the comments section said that seeing a relationship between two women openly shown and accepted on a tv show they loved helped them to come to terms with their identities, come out to friends, and feel better about themselves. And I think that’s wonderful! I really wonder if seeing something like this when I was in high school would have helped things click a bit better. A lot of those scenes of Intense Looks between Tara and Willow reminded me quite a bit of my own time spent with Tiffany during sleep-overs at her house.

My own media-related lightbulb moment came in college, when I watched But I’m a Cheerleader in the last weeks of a slowly failing relationship with a Really Straight Guy (who was no longer into my shaved head when he realized I wasn’t planning on growing my hair back any time soon and later told me it made me look “like a street thug,” if that gives you any idea as to the depth of the disconnect). I was fighting a mix of gender confusion, vague attraction to a close female friend, and a lot of sadness about the fact that what had seemed like a good relationship at one point had broken down to such an extent.

I don’t actually remember that much about the movie (I wanted to re-watch it this week, but it isn’t streaming on netflix and our local video store didn’t have it, so alas I am going by an 11-year-old memory), but I remember staying awake for a long time after the boyfriend had fallen asleep, thinking of the sex scene near the end of the film, and realizing that I wanted something like that in my life. Probably it didn’t help that Clea Duvall was dark-haired and freckly and the friend I had a crush on was blonde; it was pretty easy to insert myself into that scene. I wrote “some things become painfully obvious at the most inopportune times” in my journal and spent some time IMing my roommate back in our dorm before I cried myself to sleep.

I don’t know that I have a huge amount of regret over how I discovered my own queerness; it was tied up quite a bit into my understanding of (or, to be more accurate, befuddlement by) my own gender and I think wrestling with both issues at once was helpful, if a bit exhausting. And lovely Tiffany from high school was active in an evangelical church that was VERY anti-gay, and while I’m not sure what her personal opinion was, it’s possible that trying to initiate anything with her wouldn’t have gone well, YFL nonwithstanding. Still, I at least wish I’d had some exposure to queerness earlier on, and I can’t disagree more with anyone who doesn’t want teenagers exposed to even the concept of being something other than straight. If I hear someone say “Cecil/Carlos made me realize it was ok to be gay” ten years from now, I will be quite pleased.

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You are not entitled to outdated information

About a week ago, I learned that some episodes of a student television show I’d acted in back in my sophomore year of college are now archived online. I do own VHS copies of those episodes, but as it’s been quite a while since I’ve owned a VHS player, I haven’t watched them in probably nine or ten years. I kind of stumbled into STV acting by accident – my roommate at the time and some other friends were involved in this particular show, and I was brought in to fill some small roles at the last minute and enjoyed myself enough that I was willing to play some larger parts in two episodes written and directed by friends. I had no real acting background and I doubt my performance in either episode was particularly good (I haven’t watched either yet), but I enjoyed myself, for the most part.

To be honest, I haven’t really thought about my brief acting career in a long time, but when I heard that these episodes were available I was pretty excited, even when I saw that the preview shot of one of them featured circa-2002 me, who looks like a separate person altogether. I have a bit of an odd fascination with pictures of myself From Before. While my understanding of myself was so slow and gradual that there’s not really a dividing line I can draw between distinct states of Before and After, I often think of the stretch of time between summer and early autumn of 2002, a few months after these episodes were filmed, as the best place to put such a line. I struggled with body image issues and my appearance from a very early age, and it pains me to look back and see a really lovely person who was so convinced of her own awkwardness. It’s really unfortunate that I never realized the beauty of that face and that body until I no longer inhabited it.

I know a lot of trans folks are very hesitant to share any Before Pictures with anyone. I certainly have felt like that at times; in the long and awkward years between starting hormone therapy and feeling like most people seemed to be reading my gender at least correctly enough to use the right language for me, I didn’t want anyone to have a memory of a slightly different face to poison their thoughts of me. I resented the before and after pictures that often accompanied stories about trans people. Those pictures can be really interesting, for sure, but I feel like they’re often presented as further “proof” that trans people are being deceptive or hiding their “true nature” from others, or that they redirect people’s focus only onto the idea of a physical transformation.

I don’t generally share older pictures of myself with people, but I am comfortable with it in certain situations, and with certain people. If it’s someone who I feel is respectful of me and my identity, especially someone who didn’t know me five or six years ago and hasn’t had to stumble over language changes, then it can be more humorous than anything else to share those pictures. I look very different now; many older pictures look more like a sister or cousin who vanished ten years ago than part of my own past. I’m far enough away from that face, from that body, that looking at or sharing images from the past doesn’t usually feel like reliving it. There’s a bit of a fog over that time – although of course I don’t know if it’s any different from the separation anyone feels from their own history – and sometimes sharing images and talking about it helps me remember and connect with that person a little better. Sometimes it’s just silly. I may wear a comfy skirt around the house sometimes, but there’s still a vast gulf between that and the picture of me in a lavender dress at my senior prom.

As a side note about photos – I actually don’t like to look at or share a lot of pictures from around 2004-2008 or so; in the first years I was going through social and medical transition I felt physically very awkward and I see that discomfort reflected very clearly in most pictures of myself from that time. I’m not sure if anyone else does as well, but I don’t tend to share those. But pictures a little earlier and later than that time are generally ok.

So sure, pictures are something I’m happy to share in the right context. I tweeted about those STV episodes, and considered just posting a link to them because I don’t feel like there are people who follow me on twitter who would use the sight of Old Me against me in any way. I decided to wait until I watched the episodes and that maybe I’d just send the link to people individually if they asked. One friend who hadn’t known I’d done STV at all got the link after she mentioned it, and I started thinking about going to bed.

Then I looked more closely at the links to individual videos; there was a cast list on the screen. I turned to my partner and said “scroll down and check, I can’t do it.” I’m glad I did, because I was credited not under my current legal name, which was the name I used at the time, but my birth name, which I do NOT want associated with me in any way. I got back in touch with the friend who I’d sent the links to and asked her to make sure that if she showed her husband the video she didn’t let him see the name there. I deleted the tweet with the links in it. And I realized that there was no way I would share that link with anyone else, unless they’d known me long enough to know that name. And even then… sometimes I like to imagine that those folks might forget it if they go long enough without being reminded.

A friend asked me, after I did a lot of upset tweeting about the entire business, why I’m not upset by people seeing what I used to look like but about them knowing my birth name. I think that’s a good question, and it’s not something I’d specifically thought about before – it’s just been the case that after a certain point, I decided it was all right in some situations to share pictures with people but under no circumstances will I tell anyone the name my parents gave me. It was one of the few things I could control, especially early on, and one thing I’ve learned is that when people find out that you’re trans, or what a former name was, somehow it’s much more likely that they’ll mess up and use the old name or pronouns than before. By not letting them even know that name, I could protect myself from hearing it from people who were being disrespectful or lazy.

Not sharing my birth name with anyone was really the one boundary I found myself able to set and maintain. I had a very hard time asserting myself early in transition, whether that was around asking people to use the right language for me, refusing to answer invasive and inappropriate questions, or even maintaining my personal boundaries. At one point I found myself having a conversation with a young woman running a Planned Parenthood table at a student event on campus and, as I was still in my Trans Ambassador “I’ll answer any question! Unless it’s offensive, but I’ll explain WHY it’s offensive (and probably answer it too because oops, I am not confident saying no)!” phase, I found myself talking about the various changes testosterone has on the body. When I came to changes in breast texture, her hand came out in front of her and got to just a few inches from my chest before she stopped and asked “can I touch?” And yes, I let her.

I let a stranger touch my chest so she could feel the texture of my breast tissue, but I never told anyone my birth name once I realized that I could make that choice. It was the one line I never let anyone cross, and I was proud of that. When I couldn’t assert anything else, I could hold on to that. When I didn’t feel like I was “trans enough” or “manly enough” to have the right to ask people to use the pronouns they couldn’t ever get right, I believed in my own name enough that I never had a hard time enforcing that.

Some people were baffled by this. I started hormone therapy about six months into working at a place I remained for five more years, and while my few co-workers were supportive, for the most part, they were a little clueless and asked a lot of inappropriate questions (which I mostly answered because, again, I was in that Friendly Trans Ambassador space where I figured I could Do Good and Educate People). My boss had a friend who used to come hang out in the back of the store and he often made me uncomfortable. The worst thing he did, though, was ask me if my name “was my real name.” Which it was, even if I hadn’t legally changed it yet, because OF COURSE it was. But he kept pushing: What’s it short for? What does your mom call you? What was your birth name? I never told him, and thankfully my boss would tell him to knock it off and wouldn’t tell him when he started to ask him instead of me. Even after he changed jobs and stopped hanging out at work as much, for a few years he’d ask me whenever he got the chance.

Once, he and I were in the same place and ran into someone who recognized me from the fact that I’d dated a friend of hers about five years before that, and he wheeled on her to ask what my name had been. Thankfully she didn’t know it (or lied and said she didn’t; I am not sure if she would have ever heard it), but it was a pretty terrible feeling to have someone SO dogged in their pursuit of information that I made very clear I was not willing to share.

About a year after I’d started T and had actively started requesting and enforcing male pronouns, I was interviewed for a news story about a church in town that was having a weekend seminar on how to be trans-inclusive. I didn’t go to that (or any) church, but the reporter who was writing the story was mostly focusing on a few trans people in the area in a “look, these people do exist” sort of way to show why the church leaders felt the need to be inclusive in the first place. The reporter knew my boss and (somehow) was aware that two trans people worked at my store, so she asked to interview us both for the story.

My interview took place on the picnic table out behind the store, and was a pretty 101-y sort of conversation; I think most of the questions were related to when I realized I was trans, what my sense of gender was growing up, that sort of thing. I could see her list of questions from where I sat, and my eye was drawn to one question near the bottom. I hoped she’d run out of interview time before she got to it, but of course she didn’t.

“What is your birth name?”

“Oh, actually I don’t tell that to anyone.”

“What? Why not?”

“I just don’t think it’s anyone’s business. I don’t want people knowing what my name used to be because that’s not who I am now, and I don’t want anyone to connect that name and myself in their mind.”

She sat back, seemingly surprised and put off by this; I’d been really forthcoming up to that point in answering her questions and I don’t think she’d considered that any of what she was asking could have been inappropriate or too invasive.

“Ok, but can you… can you just tell me? Off the record? I won’t print it, I just want to know.”

NOPE.

I’m better at setting boundaries than I used to be, so this isn’t the only thing I feel able to enforce, but still it’s probably the most important information for me to guard. I am sad that it means I can’t share my goofy and short-lived acting career with new friends, but I’m willing to put up with that in order to protect my actual name from contamination from the past.

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