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On the importance of Transgender Day of Visibility.

March 31st is Transgender Day of Visibility, a day that takes place every year to raise the voices of trans people and highlight the importance of inclusion of transgender people within and beyond the LGBTQ+ community. To celebrate and remember that day, we asked a few of our members what it means to them to be trans. The days leading up to TDOV, Callum and Rowen shared their stories, and Valerie shared a drawing, which can be seen here:

"The first time I remember consciously seeing a trans man was in the pages of a Girlz-magazine that I believe belonged to my sister. It was a two-page spread of an interview with two transguys in their mid-teens. I remember looking at that spread over and over again over the next few months because something about the possibility of being a boy even though people said you were a girl was utterly fascinating to me.

The second time I remember seeing a trans man was on Nickelodeon, when the character of Adam Torres first appeared on Degrassi. I was about twelve years old and still didn’t really understand what being transgender meant but I remember thinking: that’s cool, if I were transgender I could be a boy too.

In the years that followed, I saw many trans people, mostly on the internet and some on television. The first time I realized that someone I knew was trans was when a guy a few years ahead of me in school came out. I remember thinking: I wish that were me, then I could be a guy too.

Then a youtuber I followed came out and said: I’m not a girl. I don’t know if I’m a boy. But I’m not a girl. And, after lengthy deliberation, I figured that maybe that was me too. After all, I probably wasn’t a boy but if I could be not-a-girl that would be almost as good.

And it took a while but eventually I did figure out that not only could I be a boy, I had been one the entire time."

foto Rowen TDOV2021

tdov valerie

Made by Valerie

content warning: depression, suicide ideation, implied substance abuse, family drama, transphobia

On the evening of February 10th 2015, I stumbled upon a survey posted in the Facebook group of a dead forum that I used to visit in the early 2010s. The survey must have been titled something like, ‘opinion on transgenderism’ in my native language, and it had a series of open questions asking people about their experiences with their gender identities, whether they’ve ever considered getting a sex change, and of course, what they thought about those who did and had gone through with their decision. Being the repressed habitual oversharer that I am, I saw this as a spectacular opportunity to pour my heart out for the purpose of being dissected, and perhaps understood by someone, somewhere that I was sure would have appreciated my naked honesty. I spent no less than 5 hours completing the survey, within which contained thoughtful responses such as the following passage, translated and slightly paraphrased:

I don’t think I’d ever wanted to categorise myself as a boy or a girl. But I just know that, for some reasons, I’d be so much happier, given the way society and my parents regarded me and expected me to be, I’d be so much happier if I had been born a boy. I wish I could be tall and handsome and alpha looking and shit even though it’s dumb, but still I fantasise about that day and night. If only I had been 10 centimetres taller or boobless, then at least I could still change my sex, so well I guess I’m doomed. I’m doomed.

I never went to sleep that night. As it was, I believe that was the point of no return. Until that point, I moved through life mostly as a ‘not-a-girl’ human person possessed by the dampened spirit of a middle aged retiree except that the concept of sex eluded me. The awareness of a different possible future quickly rendered the reality I was settling for intolerable. Something in me had snapped completely, something fundamental to my personhood and my emotional reality, something I understood deeply as an essential component to any potential future of mine that would be worth looking forward to. Before 2015, medically transitioning was not something I had ever considered, ever thought possible for myself. Before 2015, my knowledge of transgender people consisted entirely of one tv host, one meet the freaks type documentary episode from a popular tv network, and the ladyboys of Thailand—human demons, aberrations, something objectionable and borderline inhuman. Before 2015, I had tried to be a girl, or otherwise rise above it all and cultivate an identity that transcended any notion of sex and gender. But material reality was not something one could ignore or not let it affect them. I couldn’t simply just ‘not think about it’ when even in my dreams I’m constantly reminded of the contours of my flesh, the illicit nature of my topless form, the role I was born to play as a daughter, sister, wife, woman. I couldn’t ignore that every time I spoke, the pitch of my voice informed the world around me of some innate aspect of my personhood that ran completely contrary to how I felt inside and wished to be seen. How could there possibly be anything more important than my connection to my humanity? How could I possibly focus my mind on anything else when the choice I know to be right for myself was to pick a fight against the whole world, my parents, and even nature itself?

I tried to convince myself out of it, the whole sex change thing. I weighed the pros (self-centred satisfaction) against the cons (medical drama, social shame, family gatherings, airports, swimming pools, a lifetime of syringes, political disenfranchisement, dating, money, crushing my parents’ hopes and dreams) and on May 5th of the same year, I wrote my dad a 7000 word email that was part confession, part retrospective and half apology. I titled it “I love you”, assured him of that over and over again, told him I am a man, and told him everything. It did not go well.

There was hurt, poor choices of words and a tremendous amount of guilt in the beginning. I knew I was at the very least going to disappoint and frighten him, but I didn’t expect how much his dismissal was going to sting, and how much his expressed frustration would come to cement the shame that I felt. I could see where he was coming from. What parent wouldn’t feel disappointed when the child they poured their heart into raising turned out to be as despondent and as obsessed with going through some esoteric medical procedure as I was? He told me, among many other things, that I was too young, spent too much time online, and that I should have more important things on my mind right now such as fulfilling my obligation as a student. I felt ridiculous, mocked for the intensity of my resolve and ultimately, rejected. Am I not a full person, while I am in school? Am I not expected to have a life, have a sense of self while I’m focusing on my work as a student? It wasn’t like I didn’t understand the weight of this decision, that it is permanent and irreversible to some extent. It wasn’t like I didn’t understand that I was young and stupid, and that young and stupid people may not be the best equipped for making life long decisions. But I knew who I am and what I wanted, I have always known. Perhaps the problem was that I knew too well.

The few years after I came out stretched on forever and ever and mercilessly chipped away at my soul, the feeling of lost time and self hatred obscuring any potential happiness I could envision for my future. What hurt the most was how unnecessarily dramatic it all felt. I resented how rigid and binary the idea of gender is, and I resented how much this dumb idea meant to people, while they had the audacity to accuse me of being the person who cared too much. My parents are both well to do people who loved their daughter more than anything in the world, who had hoped for her birth, her maturity and to eventually see her in her wedding gown hand in hand with a man who will love and indulge her as they did. I was handed so many great things in life, and yet not only was I never happy, I was eager to forsaken everything and turn myself into a freak. When I was 15 I’d overheard my mom crying to my grandma, “I failed him, I failed him. I turned his daughter into this, I don’t know what I did but I fucked up.” That was the year I cut off my hair and strapped my tits up with bandages and duct tape. I’ve never seen my mom so horrified and furious when she saw that I'd accidentally scared myself when a small section of the tape had come in contact with my skin when I’d used it to flatten my chest. I’d been remorseful, regretful of my foolishness and adolescent tantrums, but at the same time I couldn’t deny that I was mad at them.

Mad at the irrationality of seeing my choice of presentation as some kind of existential threat, some spiteful, self-centred act of provocation and an affront to their love and devotion to me. I was heartbroken that, to them, the only thing that could have been worse than me coming out as transgender was if I had killed myself. When ironically, it was the guilt I felt towards them that nearly drove me to my first attempt, though double ironically, it was also the same guilt that saved me.

Then there was the loneliness. After the storm I stirred up at home, any conversation about my “gender thing” ceased between me and my parents, while I, alone on foreign soil, chose self isolation. It was not that I lacked supportive friends, as I’ve been blessed with plenty including ones who’d even confront my parents on my behalf. I was just in no fitting shape to reciprocate the warmth of friendship. I was a sinkhole where all joy came to die, an empty husk of a human being desperate to forget that I’m capable of being perceived. Anything good would be wasted on me. I was annoyingly vocal about my lack of passion for life, as if if I stopped cursing myself, people would decide for me what I ought to be feeling. And no one told me how to feel. Though of course, I wish, that the antidote for heartache was as simple as a hug, a smile, and the eternally helpful advice, “just stop thinking so much”.

I self medicated, little by little attempted to sever the bond between my mind and my body. It intensified my loneliness until I eventually settled into it. I became so alone that it just makes sense. I became so alone that I was no longer, in some sense, real. I’d made some efforts too, going to the school counsellor, going to therapy, and reaching out to support groups. I was not able to connect to anyone. The mid 2010s was also not a particularly good time to be a single wayward tran adrift on the internet with no anchor, no community and no self esteem. At some point it must have gotten tiring. I remember trying to come to terms with my lot in life, trying to unmake myself and see if the broken pieces have something better to show for. Then one day out of nowhere, a little over two years after I sent my confession to my dad, my mom texted and asked me if I want to go see the doctor that summer and discuss potential possibilities. 

Things happened mind numbingly fast after that, it felt like emotional whiplash. And it only came to be because my mom had done her own youtubing and reached out to a transguy online who then convinced her that medical transition was necessary for me, that trans people are really quite ordinary existences and that I was born this way. Immediately after my first chat with the, heh, gynaecologist, I was set up for my first shot of testosterone on August 2nd, 2017.

The effect, well, at least part of it, was quite immediate. And within a month of medical himbofication I’ve become virtually unclockable. Tasks that were previously unimaginable, such as going to job interviews, became, well, just slightly manageable. And as my range of grievances became more socially acceptable, regular aspects of life that were just barely achievable before, such as speaking to people, became quite doable as well. That said, it still took me another 3 years or so before I fully came to terms with being trans. When I first joined asvgay—a casual attempt at socialising to make up for the years I wasted drunk on self pity back during my bachelor years— I wasn’t even sure if I could bring myself to come out openly as a trans man. It was quite painful, actually. When I was at the ontrozing and surrounded by cis gay men, dancing, laughing, having access to something I didn’t. I doubted if I could ever be as comfortable, as present as they were. I wondered if I could ever find the kind of love that I wanted, that I could accept. I wonder if anyone, especially a gay man, could love and desire me as a man, yearn for my affection as I did theirs. I knew some of the answers, at least if I’d stubbornly decide to stay stealth and become a forever wallflower, even when for the first time in my life I’ve found friends who may actually, truly understand me. 

I vaguely remember one night, after I got tired of crying and binge watching testosterone voice change videos, perhaps at some point during 2016, I fantasised about writing a long ass coming out post and put it on social media with a picture of myself, shirtless, chest defined, abs rippling. I imagined old friends and families flocking into the comments in awe, commenting things like “it’s about damn time”, or stuff to the effects of “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”, simulating some kind of heartwarming character resolution like in a coming of age movie. Well it does turn out that while I have a hard time shutting up when I’m talking about myself, I’m quite content with living my life without an audience, never mind that life most certainly does not work like a movie at all. Nonetheless, I’m happy to find myself in the position to feel comfortable sharing a piece of my story on this symbolic day, broadcast my woes and send subtle messages to the people who met me at some point in the last two years and have no idea what my deal was. All this, while at the same time helping others like me feel less alone. I believe there’s always comfort to be found in the realisation that other people have felt the things you’ve felt before, however specific, intimately painful it may be. In the end, life is tolerable, and pain is absorbed in growth. At long last, I’ve mustered up the courage to make myself visible.

TDOV Callum

How are you spending Transgender Day of Visibility this year?