Monday, 13 October 2014

No Wrong Way

an article by Jen Richards

I came out as trans two years ago today. In that time I’ve been blessed to engage with hundreds of trans people around the world.

For years before I came out I struggled with whether or not I was transgender. I didn’t see myself reflected in any of the online communities I found, in the depictions I could find in media, or the few meetings or clubs I attended in quiet terror. So I assumed I wasn’t trans myself. It was only after I launched We Happy Trans that I began hearing a broader range of stories.
A lot of my work since has been motivated a single desire: that no one else misses the opportunity to live their truth simply because they didn’t see anyone like them.

To that end, this is a sample of the kinds of trans people I’ve personally met, talked to, learned from, heard about through mutual friends, or seen in the last two years. It is not intended to be comprehensive or definitive, but rather a glimpse from one specific person’s experience, over a relatively brief period of time, and in utterly random order. I gladly welcome further input in comments & reposts.

Note: For the purpose of this piece, I am assuming the validity any person’s self-identification as trans. Where words like “pass” or any adjectives are used, it’s because the people mentioned described themselves as such. None of these descriptions are value-laden, but rather intended to show diversity of experiences. While nothing is graphically described, there are many words or experiences mentioned that some may consider triggering.
Thank you all for being you. I am endlessly inspired.


Trans women who are over six feet tall and still rock high heels. Tiny ones next to whom I feel like a beast. Some who wish they were taller, some incredibly anxious about their stature and who instinctively shrink their bodies. Tall trans men. Short trans men. Trans men so masculine that I don’t even notice their height. Trans man/woman couples so comfortable with their inversion of ‘normal’ height differences that the idea of normal becomes laughably absurd.

People who don’t identify as men or women, or who identify as both, or third sex, or as nonbinary or genderqueer or genderfluid or some combination of these. Some who see various stages of gender expression and identity as stops towards a final destination, others who comfortably live outside of any binary structure. I know people whose assigned gender is totally unknown to me or others, and others who claim trans status even though they may not pursue any kind of medical intervention or even adopt an obviously gendered presentation. Intersex people who consider themselves trans and those that see their issues and identities as unrelated.

Trans men and women who have taken hormones since they were children or teenagers, those who have never taken hormones, and among both groups both people who are correctly gendered and those who aren’t. People terrified of self-medicating, those who have only ever self-medicated. Some who immediately found informed consent clinics or whose insurance plans covered everything they wanted, and many more who fought the systems or worked around it. One trans woman who reduced her hormones because she didn’t want to become too “passable”. People who are casual and inconsistent with their hormones, others who get anxious if they miss a single dose. Trans people who lie to doctors, or ignore their advice, who over medicate and hurt themselves, or who find a better and more appropriate regiment than a doctor could prescribe, who stock up hormones to give to their friends in need, who experiment on themselves and share their knowledge with the community.

Trans women who love their cocks and have no desire for surgery, some who have always hated them, and every shade of horror, acceptance and enjoyment between. Some who have mutilated their own, through creative and dangerous ways, some successfully, some with painful consequences. Women who have their testicles removed, but do not want further surgery, and some who do that first and save up vaginoplasty later. One who medically transitioned, with hormones and surgeries, but remained their assigned gender in public. Trans men who pack and those that don’t. Trans men that bind and those that don’t. Trans men who sometimes pack or bind and other times don’t, or do or don’t at different times in their transition. Men who want phalloplasty, men who don’t. Trans men who love being penetrated and trans men who don’t ever want to be touched there. Many men and women whose feelings towards their genitals evolve over time.

Trans women who naturally grow breasts as big as a C-cup, those who never get bigger than an A. Women that get breast augmentation as soon as they can, and those who never do. Those that love their breasts, those that wish they had waited, or seen a different surgeon, or had gotten smaller or bigger implants. Trans women who have lost nipple sensitivity due to surgery, some who care and some who don’t. Trans women who can orgasm through having the nipples touched. Trans men who have their breasts removed and those that don’t or can’t, some that want it done and some that don’t, or don’t care, those who proudly display their scars and those that hide them.

Trans women who pump their bodies with silicone, some who love it, some who do it safely, some who later regret it, some who suffer, some whom are taken advantage of. Women who go abroad for surgeries, some who prefer to stay in the states, and people in both groups happy and unhappy with the results they get and the care they receive.

Trans women who have FFS, trans women that want it, trans women that want it but will never be able to afford it or are too scared to get it. Trans women that want it even though no one else thinks they need it. Those who have a little work done, those who become addicted and return again and again for more and more work. Trans women who become fixated on a single feature, whether it’s their foreheads or their nose or their cheeks or eyebrows or lips or jawlines or chins or any combination. One trans woman who is saving up to have her feet shortened.

Trans women who go through laser hair removal for their beards, or electrolysis, or both, or who simply master the art of a close shave, or who never had much facial hair, or who who don’t care if they have a little shadow. Trans men who rock bushy thick beards or light mustaches. Some who never really get much facial hair, and of them some that care and some that don’t.

I’ve been with femme and butch trans lesbians, trans fairies and faggots and dykes, and totally straight hetero-normative trans people. Trans people who see their sexuality and gender expression as totally separate and those for whom they are tied together in an ever evolving dance.

Trans people who make several attempts at transition, who go back and forth, some due to their own changing sense of self or comfort, and others because of external pressure or stress. Trans people who present as male or female depending on their mood. Those that see themselves as cross-dressers or butch dykes first and later realize they’re trans, others who try hormones and then realize it’s not for them. Trans people with total and unwavering conviction of their gender identity, and those who struggle with their identity even long into their transition.

Trans men and women who only hang out with other trans people, or refuse to be seen with any other trans people. Trans people who work tirelessly to support others no matter their background or identity. Trans women who talk about sisterhood and community but overtly or quietly exclude anyone who doesn’t fit their conception of properly trans. Trans men who become misogynistic. Trans people who lift others up, and trans people who instinctively tear others down.

I’ve seen racism in the trans community. Too much racism. From those who openly resent the success of black trans women or the centering of conversations around trans people of color, to others who give lip service to prioritizing the needs of people of color but do little to nothing to change their own behavior, share their own space, or cede their own power.

Trans women who proudly tag everything “girlslikeus” and others who refuse to use it at all. Trans people who find community on Twitter or whose only connection to others is through Tumblr. Trans men who document their transition with monthly regularity on YouTube, trans women who post timelines of their changing appearance, and trans people who remove all evidence of their previous name and likeness from all online platforms.

Trans people who hate cis people, trans people who don’t even know what “cis” means, and trans people who couldn’t give a hoot about cis people one way or another. Trans people who don’t want to be with other trans people and those that only hang around with others like them. People who embrace the term “tranny” fully, some who only use it among other trans people, some who feel panic at the very mention of it. Trans women in sex work who are resigned to being labeled as “shemale” and those actively fighting for change in the industry.

I’ve known tops, bottoms, and switches, kinky trans people and vanilla ones. Trans women who never use their cocks in sex, others that love using it. Trans people who don’t have sex at all. Some whose sex drives increase with hormones, others whose decreases. Trans women that were never attracted to men before but then find themselves aroused by men after. Some of those who then identify as straight, and some that later come to prefer women. Others that were never attracted to men and experience no change with transition. Trans women who have never been with a woman, cis or trans, and shudder at at the thought. Trans men who still date lesbians, gay trans men, bi trans men, and trans men whose sexuality evolves. Trans women who once saw themselves as gay men, or drag queens, and still feel at home among gay men. Trans women who date gay men. Trans women who only date other trans women, or only trans people, and those who avoid all relationships with trans people. Trans people whose spouses stay with them through transition, and others whose relationships don’t survive the change. I’ve seen trans men date each other, trans women couples, trans man/woman couples, and pretty much every conceivable combination in poly groupings.

Women who were assigned male at birth but don’t consider themselves trans, or who consider themselves women with a trans history, or who think of themselves as having a medical condition that is corrected by surgery. Trans people who consider transgender a mental condition, or a biological one, or spiritual, or don’t care. Some who genuinely think it makes them better than cis people, some who have internalized a lot of shame and are filled with self-hatred. Many who finds themselves always moving through various shades of acceptance and struggle.

Trans women who played with dolls and wanted their hair long as kids. Trans women who played with guns and played football and eschewed feminine things. Trans men who embraced girlhood, others who fought it. Trans men who have a profoundly new and different love affair with femininity, make up, long hair, and dresses as trans men than they ever did before, and trans women who find comfort or power with masculinity once they’re affirmed as women. Trans men and women who showed clear signs of their true gender at an early age, those who felt it but kept it well hidden, those who weren’t conscious of their desire to transition until later in life. People who transitioned early because they had nothing to lose or no one to answer to, and people who never transition because they feel they have too much to lose or others who are dependent on them. Trans people who look to the world as astonishingly courageous, others who describe themselves as cowards.

Trans people who used to play sports or work out or act or sing or travel and then stop during or after transition, some who never give up such activities, some who return to such activities later. Trans women who used to be drag queens or show girls or participated in pageants or balls, some of whom found themselves there, some of whom still perform. Trans women whose first exposure to their own possibility was through pornography or who hired trans sex workers to talk to or learn from or just be near. I know many trans women who are or have engaged in sex work, and a few trans men, from street work to high-end escorting, from camming to pornography. Some have few other choices, some can do it as they please and on their own terms, some who love their work and some who hate it.

Some who need it to survive, and many who do it to fund their transition, some who hit their goal and get out, some who never leave. Some who were lured by false promises, some who later regretted what they did. There are trans people who are proud of their sex work, and others who are ashamed, some who are out and advocate for others, some who are terrified of being discovered. Some who do it for money, some who do it out of anger and resentment, some who do it for the affirmation, or some combination of all three.

Trans people who live “stealth”, or “deep stealth”, or semi-stealth, or openly, or who think the whole idea of stealth ridiculous. Those who are open to those who ask but don’t proactively disclose, some for safety reasons, some out of fear, some because they simply don’t think it’s anyone’s business. Trans people who embrace a trans identity and take steps to make sure they remain visibly trans.

Trans people who embrace their identity because they’re consistently seen as trans, or as the gender they were assigned as. Some who are pained by this, deeply, some who are not. Trans people who desperately want to pass. Others who challenge, play with, or subvert the whole notion of passing.
Trans people who gave up, who chose to end their life rather than go on without being able to live honestly, or who didn’t want to bear the brutality of a world that hated them. Trans people who grew up with the support of family and those who were shunned, abandoned, abused, or hated by theirs.

Trans people who lost friends, close and best and old friends, those who gained new friends, or became closer with existing ones. Trans men who were pushed out of their communities when they transitioned, trans women who lost their circles of support when they disclosed. Trans people who were fired when they transitioned or disclosed, or were quietly pushed out, or who couldn’t get hired because they were trans. I’ve known moms who became dads, and dads who become moms, and dads who stay “dad” even after transition.

I’ve known many trans people who have survived childhood abuse, with various degrees of coping. Many of my trans friends, both men and women, have been raped, before and after transition, by strangers, lovers, and people in authority. I’ve seen both trans men and women accused of rape or assault, sometimes by other trans people. Many more of my trans friends have been assaulted, especially trans women, and usually because they are trans or in some way appear gender non-conforming.

I’ve met trans bullies, assholes, and idiots, intensely selfish and narcissistic trans people. Trans people who think the mere fact that they’re trans means that their voice or issues should be valued above others. Trans women who aggressively claim a lesbian identity and become predatory towards other women, cis and trans. There are trans people with every possible mental illness. There are differently abled trans people. I’ve met deaf and blind trans people, trans people with chronic pain, or who are living with or are survivors of cancer. I know trans people with HIV. There are trans people in our community with PTSD, who lash out and hurt others. And there are other trans people who use any or all of the above to shun others, and others for whom this all leads to profound compassion and empathy.

I’ve known trans Christians and Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and Pagans and atheists and occultists. Trans people who see their transition as a fundamentally spiritual experience, and others who have no interest in spirituality. Religious and trans people who talk about their beliefs, and others who keep it private. Trans people with and without tattoos and piercings and body mods. Trans people who drink, who drink too much, who could use a drink right now, who are recovering alcoholics, who smoke pot, who smoke too much pot, who are addicted to pills, or cocaine, or meth, or heroin, some who are in recovery, some who will be, some who have overdosed, and some who will if they don’t make a change.

Trans people who became nicer or more stable after coming out or transitioning or taking hormones, and those who were further destabilized. Those that hoped transition would fix their issues, some for whom it did, and some who found new issues to confront.

There are trans men who feel a strong sense of belonging to women’s communities and groups, some who recognize the tensions there and navigate it successfully, some who are rude and demanding and see no issue. Trans men who struggle for years with learned and internalized hatred of men, some who find those thoughts justified when they have access to men’s spaces, and some who find instead brotherhood and goodness. Trans men who mourn the loss of lesbian community, some who never lose it, some who come to look down on women. Those who recognize the privileges granted them as men, others whose socialization as women subverts this privilege.

Trans women with long, thick luxurious hair, some with weaves, some with extensions, some who color their hair, some who suffer intense anxiety around their hair or hairlines, those who will never allow themselves to be seen without a wig on, others who don’t care about hair at all. Trans men who go bald and love it, others who begin Propecia or Finasteride along with T so that they can keep their hair.

Trans men with deep booming voices, others who still get called “ma’am” on the phone. Trans women whose voices never change, trans women whose voices were always read as female, trans women who work hard to change their voices, some successfully and some not.

In my community there are fabulous trans women and dashing trans men and swoon inducing genderqueer people. There are those who had a sense of style before transition and carried it over, and those who found their confidence and look once they settled into their public identity. There are trans dorks and geeks and those who can’t accessorize or tie a windsor knot or rock high heels to save their life. I’ve known trans people who always look perfectly put together and those who confess themselves lucky if their socks match. Trans women who wear gorgeous lingerie, trans men in perfectly tailored suits, and both in sweats with their hair undone. Those seemingly born to makeup, who could contour a potato into perfect shape, who could do a perfect winged eyeliner while riding a bus, and those who never wear makeup, and every stop in between.

Trans people with PhD’s, with MA’s, with BA’s, with no college, and high school dropouts, and among each group both brilliant people and the seeming clueless. People who thrive in academic environments but can’t relate to people outside of them; others who adapt to any crowd. I’ve met many socially awkward trans people, and some of the most charming and gregarious people I’ve ever met are trans. Liberals, Radicals, Libertarians, Republicans, Democrats, Marxists, Capitalists, Anarchists, and the politically ignorant or apathetic are all represented in the trans community. There are unemployed trans people, and trans people in service work and trans bosses and secretaries and doctors and cooks and lawyers and entrepreneurs and programmers and politicians and baristas. Whether they know it or not, nearly everyone in this world has at some point interacted with a trans person.

I’ve known trans people who knew or claimed their rightful gender from an early age, and others who didn’t realize it until much later. Some who showed signs, some who didn’t. I’ve met many people who don’t realize they’re trans, or don’t transition, until they are in their 50′s or 60′s or even 70′s. Trans people who don’t take a single step until they have enough money saved to have every surgery the want, and others who begin their journey with absolutely no gender affirming resources.

I’ve encountered trans people from Mexico, India, Thailand, the Philippines, Iraq, France, England, Ireland, Wales, Turkey, Poland, Germany, South Africa, Japan, and Uganda. Some doing work in their own countries, others who came to the U.S. to escape persecution or because of the resources here. Trans people who have helped me realize how much of what I’m writing here is dependent upon a particular Western, modern perspective on gender.

I’ve known some who are ashamed to be trans, and many more who are proud of their identity. Sometimes the same person at different times of the day. I’ve met trans people with whom I have nothing in common except that we’re both trans, and I have trans friends whom I would love just as dearly even if they weren’t trans.

I’ve seen incomprehensible strength and resilience and brilliance and creativity among trans people. I’ve heard endless heartbreaking and heartwarming stories. I’ve held crying trans people in my arms, and I have myself been held while sobbing. I’ve laughed so hard with my trans friends that I couldn’t breathe. I’ve been with trans people and totally forgotten that any of us are trans, and I’ve stood in a room with hundreds of trans people and felt incomparable pride and hope. I am destroyed and resurrected daily by all that I witness.

In two years I’ve met an incredible number of trans people.
What I’ve never met is a single trans person who was more or less trans than any other.

There is no right way to be trans.
There is no wrong way to be trans.
Do you. Do it well.

Author / Source: Jen Richards