The Stories We Tell: Why Physical Transition Isn’t Necessary to be Transgender
Stories. Since the dawn of existence, humankind has told stories. I remember that far back, because I’m a Phoenix, after all. Well, at least half Phoenix, anyway. In all seriousness, you didn’t have to be there to know we’ve been telling stories that long. From cave paintings to hieroglyphs to tapestries to blogs and emoticons, we’ve been framing our world in understandable words and pictures from the beginning. Narrative has power, and the words that build narrative have power. Transgender seems to be the word and story of the day, and though I have no plans to turn my whole blog into a what’s what and who’s who of transgender stuffs, this week brought a few reminders of the story I have, and why I have it.
See, I’ve noticed a trend in the stories most commonly featured about transgender people lately. If it’s not a blog post condescendingly informing the reader they must conforming to x, y, and z behavior when dealing with us (Just treat me like any other person, please.), it’s another “success story” about a physically transitioned individual who is successfully living life as the opposite sex from their physical birth. As if the only transgender people society has room for are those who physically transition, and physical transition is a foregone conclusion.
Which leaves someone like me stuck.
Remember the meme at the beginning? When we talk about the transgender experience as fostering a need for physical alterations in everyone who experiences it, this is exactly what happens. This is the conversation I’ve felt to my core up until the beginning of this week.
Society: Be yourself.
Me: Okay, I’m Raidon T. Phoenix, transman, socially transitioned, with no intent to physically transition.
Society: No, not like that. You’ll never be happy without a physical transition.
Me: But, you said to be myself. I’m okay with my mind and my body, even if they get a bit muddled sometimes.
Society: Okay, but see these happy, successful, physically transitioned people, that are prettier and handsomer and more passable and successful than you.
Me (before this week): Well, yeah, and that looks like what I want…
Me (since making some decisions this week): Yeah, and? They aren’t me. I’m happy for them. I’m also not them. You are society – whatever subset happens to be talking – and I don’t care about your opinions. Have a nice day.
Those decisions involved asking myself a few pointed questions.
Do I really have to be so totally not okay with my own body that I want to surgically alter it in order to “be trans?” That’s not to say I don’t have Gender Dysphoria. I do. Or I’d never have taken on the identity of transman. Thing is, though, physical transition is neither for everyone, nor a foregone conclusion. I’m okay having the mind of a man and the body of a woman. There are several reasons for this.
Religion – I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This blog’s not really the place to go into depth about beliefs or anything, but you can check out their website, or for more basic info, check out Mormon.org and read whatever you like. I went through my own crucible, and still came out following this particular faith path, so there you go.
Health Risk – The women in my family have a history of susceptibility to various female-specific medical ailments. Changing testosterone levels in my body would increase my risk of several of them to greater or lesser degrees. No thanks. I already have enough to deal with physically, thanks to migraines and a few other issues. Also, needles.
My Family – I want my own kids, and there’s only one way to do that, really. I have the capacity to do so. So why not?
None of the above removes the Dysphoria, yet in my personal narrative, I don’t believe a physical transition would, either, any more than my medical Ring of Sustenance cures the migraines I deal with. Yet the language we use implies it’s some sort of treatment Holy Grail. Take this article from Transgender Mental Health, which describes some difficulties of children growing up with Gender Dysphoria. Just take this phrase, “…one tries to hide their inner feeling of being the wrong sex…” Really? Well, that’s a mighty fine presumption. What if I don’t feel like I’m the wrong sex? What if – as is the case for me – I feel like I’ve been told my mind is wrong my whole life, because I should think I’m a girl, and think like a girl, and I don’t?
All the surgery in the world won’t actually change my sex. It will change the sex I appear to be, and in some places change my legal status. Frankly, though, I don’t believe that’s what many of us need. And I’m not just talking about transgender people either. We all need to stop living for the expectations of strangers, and start living to build up both ourselves and those around us.
It reminds me of a brilliant article about fencing, actually. The quote that stood out the most was this. “Quit posturing.” The author, an accomplished fencer, detailed several reasons he fences.
- enjoy myself
- challenge myself to become the best I can be
- practice and explore the art I love
- share with others
- learn from others
- genuinely connect with brothers and sisters in arms
I’ve a similar, short list of reasons I undertook a social transition.
- To remain sane: alleviating depression, suicidal thoughts and anxiety
- To embrace my potential
- To stop living for others
- To learn from the challenge
Is it so hard to understand those reasons for a set of choices? I hope not. And I hope we can start setting aside our own stories long enough to listen to others. I’m glad for those who’ve found happiness in the path of physical transition. That’s not my story, and it’s not my path. And somehow, I don’t think I’m the only one.