Dear Captain and Crew,
I am transgender, FtM, or at least that’s what I came out as several years ago. Since then, I have become increasingly isolated due to work, debt, and extremely debilitating mental illness. I’m doing my best to sort those things out (moving to a place where friends are, looking for a new therapist), but I don’t really know anyone who gets the trans stuff – I always have to be the teacher. So it’s hard for me to talk about my confusion, and my very pronounced internalized transphobia.
I feel like a monster. Like even without all the mental illness, debt, and isolation, there is no way anyone could ever love me, because I’m trans. My family has been pretty good (and by good I mean awful) about reinforcing that trope.
I’ve spent a lot of time alone the last few years, and now, I’m not even sure if I am trans. Or maybe it’s just that the social cost of being trans outweighs the benefits of feeling more comfortable in my body. Does it matter what your gender is when you never leave the house? The impact of looking for housing while trans, applying for social assistance while trans… even just using public washrooms – I feel like it’s worn me down so much. So I can’t tell anymore if I’m not trans (and was wrong before…?) or if I just am so damn tired of how it feels to be trans in this world.
I don’t know how to stop hating myself, and how to stop thinking of myself as unlovable when everything in this world seems to tell me that my name and my body and any discrepancies between them make me a freak who can’t function in the system. How can I imagine a future for myself?
So I guess my question is – how can I tell what my gender is, when 99% of how I think of my gender and how I perform it, is centered around other people – around my safety and ability to navigate the world? How can I know what’s truly there underneath? (And does it even really matter?) And do you have any recommendations for dealing with internalized transphobia? I’m trying to read positive, feminist FtM stuff, but it mostly just makes me angry, because I don’t understand how they can all seem so happy.
Hey there, it’s Lt. Trans aka A. Raymond Johnson. I did something terrible and changed your name without permission, which isn’t cool since as trans people, we have to deal with being misgendered and misnamed all the time, so I apologize for that. But I needed to right away confirm and validate your feelings of being tired of being trans. That isht is indeed exhausting. And you seem to be in a particularly bad run of it right now.
I totally get feeling like a monster. It’s hard not to feel like a total weirdo freak when you’re pretty much the only trans person in a room, in a store, on a bus, in town, and then you turn on the TV or internet and there are a million stupid jokes where being trans is the punchline or the ‘surprise!’ or just general ick oozing from the voices of people, or perhaps the worst, trying to smile politely while they shake their head with pity. Excuse me for a moment, FUCK THEM. Damn, I want to punch their stupid faces through the screen, and I’m not someone who goes around punching things, but this is the emotional reaction that gets triggered in my body and I find it’s better to acknowledge it then pretend it’s not happening. If I note it’s there, I can do something constructive about it.
It sounds like you have a lot of feelings you want to do something about as well. A lot of things going down in your life right now are conspiring to make you feel even more badly about yourself – mental illness, debt, isolation. No matter how introverted any of us are, ultimately humans are social creatures and if we are left alone too long inside of ourselves, we will engage in bad decision-making, plain and simple, because our lizard brain just takes over. These decisions seem like a good idea at the time, and they are often designed to keep us safe at first, but ultimately they begin to erode our basic and complex functioning (as well as joy, pleasure, love, etc., that usually goes out the window first, then the ability to properly shower enough times per week or have a proper conversation with a stranger go by the wayside as well).
The truth is, you do have a gender when you’re alone in your house, but it’s possible you just don’t have to do anything *about* it. It just is, you’re just you. It’s only becomes an “issue” when you go outside of the house. This is a common theme with many transgender and gender non-conforming folks, though to be honest, many trans people feel uncomfortable in their bodies even when they are alone in their own house, and ultimately, this is what pushes them to take medical and physical actions to change their body. This is true for me – it wasn’t so much that I felt like SUCH a guy in my head, it was more that I knew my internal gender and sense of self would feel more comfortable housed in a guy’s body. Or at least a transguy’s body: technically my body is a bit of a mix of biology and hormones (who isn’t?), I’m not exactly standard male or female (again, who isn’t? there’s so much variety in both of these categories, the line we draw is pretty arbitrary), but most of my ‘mixed’ biological gender parts are happening either inside my body cavity or between my legs, which are places 99.9% of the world isn’t seeing. (Even going to the bathroom, I mostly just straight up use the stall for privacy, though I have acquired the slight of hand trick needed to pee standing up at a urinal, which comes in handy on many occasions.) But, I also have a hairy chest, a beard, a receding hairline, all prominent markers that read me to the world as male, which takes a huge load of worry and thought off my mind when moving through the world, as well as never needing to take the time and energy to correct pronouns or names, since that was legally changed. Removing the weight of these things certainly helped with my depression and anxiety being triggered – I’m still prone to it, and other things in life can effect it, but it’s nice to not have the daily minor traumas of being trans constantly provoking my brain.
Some trans people do not medically transition, for a variety of reasons, including money, job opportunities, family, but those reasons are shared by people who DO want to medically transition but aren’t able to right this moment, they aspire for things in their life to change so that they can too. There are trans people that have access to the resources that do not want to change their outward body. They feel perfectly fine and happy IDing as the gender of their brain and heart while existing within the body they were given. They may pack/stuff/bind, dress a certain way, get particular hairstyles that provide gender markers to help them feel more at home in the world (or more safe), but they may also have a different way of moving in the world and different coping strategies then trans people. Maybe they have a partner and a close group of friends who get it and call them by the right name and pronoun, and that’s enough for them, they don’t mind moving through the world being misgendered or misnamed by strangers (or at least they can tolerate it as a trade-off, or create a secret spy story in their head to make it a game that doesn’t personally effect them). I know many gender non-conforming (GNC) folks and we have some common threads in our story, but everyone makes the best choices for themselves when they can.
The point is, it’s kinda complicated because there’s not one way to be trans or gnc, it’s not so simple as the whole boring “born in the wrong body” narrative that is actually kinda hurtful anyway because who wants to be told their body is WRONG? Geez. That just adds to the whole monster feelings we’ve already discussed. But, I will say, if you have been having so many sustained thoughts about being trans, and have even come out about it to family and friends, then you probably aren’t ‘wrong’ about it. How it’s going to play out might be different than you initially planned or expected, and that’s ok. You also have a lot on your plate right now and don’t underestimate how much energy that requires, even if you weren’t trans. It’s totally ok to take a little trans vacation if you need it, I promise your gender will be there when you get back.
Finally, I think it’s great to find a therapist, there have been times in my life where that has saved me completely, but I also highly, highly encourage you to find a trans support group, even if you have to drive 100 miles to a meeting, just go once or twice a year. There really is something rejuvenating about being in a room of people who have all been through some similar isht and who you don’t have to teach anything too. I transitioned over 10 years ago, but last month I went to a support group because I’m still relatively new to town and wanted to meet my community and new friends, and I wasn’t expected to personally get too much out of the meeting, but when I was done, I felt SO GOOD. Sharing knowing laughs as well as hearing the hard stories of others reminded me that I’m not alone, I’m not a freak or a monster, or that at least I’m the good kind, like Grover . I mean, Grover didn’t hang out with the monsters but could go find other monsters at times he needed it. But Gonzo spent most of his whole life never ever seeing anyone that looked like him and that had to take an emotional toll. Damn, poor Gonzo. But you still find people (or rats) to love, you still find people (or rats) to love you, you make a life worth living and learn all the lessons, but it is not always an easy or fair life. We find ways to laugh and enjoy ourselves anyway.
Trans people often get so many negative messaging that they overcompensate by being all positive and happy, especially once they transition, but the reality is, I still have to face being alone, being an other, being radically different from most folks around me, but it’s a lot easier to deal with that when I’m not scared to go to the bathroom or dealing with jerkbrain depression/anxiety or having to stand in line for government assistance (I’ve been there too, that isht is demoralizing and I feel for you.) Find some sarcastic bastard trans friends who make you laugh. There has to be one or two out there in this whole wide internet. Take care of your basic needs. Build up an emotional wall with your non-affirming family. Find people who get it and talk to them – therapist, trans and gnc people, especially. The internalized transphobia will always be there, but it starts becoming less dense, less scary, more just random thoughts you can be momentarily shocked at, then let them float by. Or you just project it onto people making stupid trans jokes on TV and fantasize about punching them through the screens.
I would love to hear from other trans and gnc folks in the comments, especially sharing coping strategies and tips for when we’re tired of being trans!