By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly
A year and a half into my transition, the HR Director from my work informed me that people had threatened to protest outside my workplace because of my presence. They’d seen a picture of me, taken surreptitiously, and, infuriated that their complaints did not lead to my immediate removal, announced their intention to picket. My temerity at not presenting as male after having been assigned so, was clearly too much for them. In attempting to explain this to co-workers, I realized it was my identity, my insistence on inhabiting a life in which I reflected my inner self in my outer expression, that my detractors found objectionable.
Perhaps realizing they’d lost, that their petition had not found sympathetic ears, the “protestors” never showed. Their specter shocked me, though. It may even have eradicated the last of my internal transphobia. “You and your ignorant, small-minded rules, your cowering, slavish adherence to received norms, deserve none of my patience or consideration,” I thought, in retaliation, and in a voice that’s grown in volume and conviction as time has passed.
While I’ve felt correct, though, and cheer at being on the seemingly victorious side of the culture wars, I weary of feeling chained to those who hate me. “Religious freedom,” “bathroom bill,” “privacy.” Those words trip some lever inside me that says my autonomy is threatened, and peak my ire.
Wouldn’t I be happier, I ask, ignoring conservative types, who appear to value rules more than people? Isn’t society evolving? Isn’t my life, my actual life in which I interact with humans rather than websites, marked, with few exceptions, by complete tolerance and acceptance? A brush with actual hatred had sparked the same in me. It’s probably worth reclaiming the real estate these phantom enemies have taken up in my mind.
I grew up at a time when transgender children told their parents who they were, and were told by those parents, in no uncertain terms, they were wrong. All of society privileged “the rules” above those of us whom they harmed and deemed the suffering this caused us a byproduct of our “illness.”
In my lifetime this has begun to change. Warily, I’ve watched “the culture,” from behind my screen, mistrustful, as, growing up I’d only ever seen “the culture” express the most vile, bigoted transphobia imaginable. Daily I tracked it, like one with PTSD, in disbelief that it might actually become more tolerant and enlightened.
Parents listening to and affirming their children? Comedians apologizing for hateful jokes about transwomen? Transgender celebrities? Witnessing previously unimaginable occurrences such as these, a swelling tide seemingly greater than the backlash that accompanied them, optimism grew in me.
All the while, my surveillance felt vital, as though if I didn’t know the daily activities, the advances and setbacks of “the movement,” I might be caught off guard, and, as I was with the threatened protest, perhaps imperiled.
From time to time, too, I struggled with the question of why I wasn’t perpetually enraged with everyone around me for the losses our culture’s transphobia had cost me, in terms of fulfillment, self-esteem, peace of mind, and decades I’d spent more or less forcibly misgendered, which I’ll never recover. While I could occasionally access that kind of all-encompassing rage, though, it was always momentary, unlike the festering resentment I felt toward those on the conservative side of the culture.
Fixating on people who make an occupation of opposing my existence, though, and viewing my life through the lens of a trench war with them, has lost any attraction it might once have had.
Over and over in my early transition, I was told by people how courageous they believed me to be. Inside I felt they had no idea how difficult what I was doing was, and, in my sensitivity, regarded their comments as condescending. Upon reflection, though, I’d guess their compliments were an expression of sympathy, of both admiration and of admission at the very incomprehension I’d been resenting.
I don’t think it’s lost on anyone how transphobic our society is, and, until meeting someone who’s transitioning, it probably never occurs to anyone how painful it might be, at times, to be transgender. My pride today lays in the humility with which I’ve been able to live my life in my transition, pursuing it as though I was no better or worse than any other person.
Self-acceptance during my transition was often difficult, as I was facing things about myself I’d hitherto hidden, and my very concept of self seemed so unstable. Slowly the belief that my equality, in every sense, existed beyond question grew inside me, though. The people who mirror that belief are the ones who helped sustain me through my transition’s darkest moments, and proved to me that love and acceptance are stronger than any hate.