Pride and Joy

I am not sure to what extent my experience of transness lines up with other people’s, and as such, I never felt comfortable referring to myself as trans until I started testosterone. I think that’s partly because I have always been very stoked on being feminine (I just want to “yes, and” that experience), and also partly because before testosterone, it seemed dishonest to imply that I was the same as the people who were taking material risks for their transness. It felt a little like claiming to be a soldier in wartime when really what you mean is that you fill out paperwork.

Because for me, unlike a lot of people I’ve talked to, being trans has not been a particular struggle. I learned the term genderqueer in college, and was immediately delighted that this was a possibility, a thing humans could do. Eventually, I decided that I was genderqueer, and got a job writing a column about it for a lingerie website, and then didn’t really do anything with that information for several years. I was mostly validated by both my cis and trans friends in my identity and my decision not to transition medically, and then about four weeks ago I decided I wanted testosterone and went to a clinic and they just gave me a prescription, they let me walk out of there with it and everything. It’s all felt pretty light. Being trans, for me, has not been my particular source of strife. I even went to therapy a few years ago, ostensibly because I wanted to process my feelings about being nonbinary, but ended up mostly talking about other things. Being nonbinary was, and has been, the least of my problems.

Partially I’ve had it easy because of exteernal factors. I’m transmasculine (ish) and white so I get away with a lot, I work in academia where plenty of people have awkward estranged relationships to the idea of a body and thus will never fucking ask about yours, and I’m surrounded by fundamentally good people who try their best to accommodate me. But it’s not just that being trans hasn’t been especially hard on me that is difficult to explain to people. I think that part of why I’ve felt reluctant to call myself trans is because the way people often talk about it is as a painful thing to endure, and for me, it is instead a source of great joy.

I think it’s really, really excellent to have an odd and off-kilter relationship to the body. I like when I notice myself slipping between masculine and feminine roles; I like the way people react to me, and I like the range of experiences I feel like I can understand. I like the way it felt to make a decision to take testosterone, and I like the feeling of my body and mind changing and delighting in those changes, as well as in the ways that I am remaining stubbornly exactly the same. I even sometimes take delight in dysphoria, the sensation of being alarmed and hurt that the map of your body in your mind is not the same as the territory. How lucky I am to get to encounter the world in these unusual ways, and to be able to come back and describe them. What a gift it is to be alive in this particularity.

When people talk about The Trans Experience, they usually talk about things like shame and fear and being disgusted with oneself—feelings that other people impose on trans people from an early age to try and push them into a recognizable shape. People often try on pride, then, as a reaction to shame, a way of flouting shame by being extra bold. That’s a beautiful tradition: one that makes shame into an occasion for purposeful celebration. I think pride is good; pride is armor. Pride is protection.

But it’s also not enough for me. Because that pride is important to get people moving, but I don’t think it’s enough to take home with you at the end of the night. A self-love that is outward facing, brash and performative is not enough to sustain you when you’re alone. And pride can sometimes get in the way of vulnerability: “I don’t owe anyone an explanation” is true, but also: it’s good to explain yourself when people sincerely want to understand.

Recently, someone I love asked me questions for the first time about what it was that I wanted from transition, and why it was so important to me. I felt very shy about answering, and I said that, and he immediately responded that I didn’t have to answer. And maybe that was true, but I wanted to answer, because I wanted to be understood and because while I felt embarrassed, I didn’t feel ashamed. And it also occurred to me that on his end, he hadn’t asked these questions before because of a fear of being rude or intrusive—perhaps cracking open the glossy outer layer of pride and exposing shame and misery, exposing me to suffering.

But I’m not all shame and misery on the inside, with my little protective coating of pride applied like a sealant. Shame and misery ebb and flow, of course, but the fundamental quality of what I feel about myself is joy. And I wish that for you, too. I want to propose a self-love that is not built on the foundation of shame, that has its wellspring in curiosity and joy. That is not about “others say I’m terrible, so it’s important that I say I am great”—but rather “I like who I am and I am excited to learn more about myself.” A private space within oneself where all things are possible. Beneath whatever layer of pride you use to hold yourself together and get through the day, I hope that you can love the things that make you strange and uniquely wise.