For the first time since starting this blog, I am having a hard time writing. Every week for the past two months I’ve made update videos that stack the storylines from the previous weeks, which I keep promising myself I’ll use when I finally post today. Tomorrow. Next week. I haven’t posted in two months. This is deliberate.
I moved to Hawaii and everything changed.
For the first time, I have a choice about being out. This luxury only extends as far as the internet, because there lives the stories, quite literally the complete history of my transition. But in my every day, I’m holding my breath less each time I meet someone new like I used to do until the new person uttered a clue as to how they read gender on me. Guys shake my hand after hugging our female friends. I get asked to help move heavy things. Dude. Bro. Man. Brah. There is a fine line between the elixir of new comfort and of course the nagging discomfort with the privilege that comes with it. There are noticeable instances when someone with power will make prolonged eye contact with me when addressing a group of us where I am the only male. And then the usual: I rarely get interrupted; I’m trusted to a good job with little explanation; I’m not the target of mild yet present sexist jokes. I’m a different target but no one can see me.
I’ve been wrestling with the guilt of how amazingly good it feels to experience this specific type of normal. How good it feels to not have to fight to carve out space, or constantly rebuild the lattice that holds up and out the boundaries of patience I’ve grown used to in the name of protecting myself. If you can imagine the pain of claws retracting. Or the weight of an invisibility cloak, soaked. Tired. Because at the end of the day that is the price. It is a trade off. A temporary release of pressure whose consequence masks hollow. I fight those demons against a deep desire to be whole.
The week before school started, before I met my two queer friends, I sat in a full lecture hall of new graduate students being trained as teaching assistants. It was the LGBT session and the facilitator had us all scribble down on a scrap of paper the names of three people we love, three places we love, and three things we love to do. He then told us to turn to our neighbor and tell them about ourselves without saying any of the words we had just written down. Light laughter filled the room as the absurdity of this request was realized. It was hard. He pointed out that this is a burden LGBTQ individuals face daily when they don’t feel safe to be out. I glanced around the room, surprised at how successful this activity was – people really never had to think about this before. After this, he asked how we would handle it if a student in our section said “that’s so gay”. The room was silent while all of the lgbtq students sat quietly hoping we wouldn’t have to be the ones to answer this. The first response: That doesn’t happen any more. The second response: I’ve only heard gay people say that, it’s like when members of X group call each other “insert potentially objectionable term in the name of reclaiming”. Someone else said something with the words “normal person” in it. She quickly backtracked, but it hung in the air. At about this point, I raised my hand. I asked about violence.
When I first arrived in Hawaii I was scared of violence, so much so that it drove my decisions around outing myself. It is hard for me when people I don’t know well try and reassure me that things are getting better for trans people, when that statement doesn’t reflect an acknowledgement of the systematic oppression and brutal and growing violence on trans bodies, and lack of alarm. After learning the landscape in Hawaii a little better and having some real conversations with the LGBT coordinator on campus, my initial fears subsided. Violence wasn’t the enemy, ignorance was. So while I didn’t seem to need to worry about being beat up, I needed to brace myself for long explanations, offensive statements, and crude joking. Today, I feel like being trans is less like being a unicorn and more like being a shark. There is less resistance against existence. People tend to have an opinion or stance against us as a whole. While we are gaining more attention in the media and our ally base is growing, some love to hate us. Or fear us. And kill us. And they do, at an unprecedented rate. And while someone might be able to name someone, I still might be the first you’ve met in person. And once someone knows, they don’t forget it. You can tell by the way they look at you. You can see it in there eyes.
I am out to some people here. How many, I’m still trying to figure out. This is also part of the problem. I’ve personally told only a handful of folks on the island, and I’m trying to connect the dots to figure out who was told by someone else. The act of coming out takes a lot of mental energy, and it’s nice to know if I don’t have to muster that up. My first few weeks in the lab, I had no idea who knew if I was trans (I still don’t). Even though I wish it wasn’t true, I act different when I’m around people who don’t know. I’m more careful to hide my scars, I turn down the (gay) flame, and I’m more self conscious and less myself. As I began to piece together who knew, I decided I’d rather just come out to the whole lab at a lab meeting (I haven’t yet), because at least then everyone would be on the same page. I’ve learned that the energy and potential uncomfortability of answering questions far outweighs knowing people are talking about you behind your back. And at this point, I think the question is more who doesn’t know. While I think most people do, since I wasn’t the one to tell them, there’s a silence around it that I’m not sure how I feel about. I’m tempted to let it go. I’m ready for this not to be a big deal.
Another thing holding me back on posting is who is now on the other side of the screen and how I want them to feel. There are the friends from home and now the new Hawaii friends. In many of the new Hawaii friendships I’m forming my trans identity hasn’t had the chance to come up, but since we are friends on facebook and I post these blogs to facebook, this post essentially serves as a coming out. I’m sensitive to the potential disappointment of finding out personal and important things about your friends on the internet and not in person. I also don’t want them to think that they are in any way part of what’s hard for me here, or that I don’t like Hawaii. I do! I love it here, and would be hard pressed to find another place and program that makes me as happy as I am, and that includes you new friends. Perhaps just try and understand that I’m loosening the reigns on what a big deal coming out has to be for me, I’d love for it not to be a big deal. I think I’m getting closer. Thank you to those of you who told me it doesn’t have to be.
To the friends back home, I wanted to start this post like this: Friends! I moved to Hawaii and everything is so much different than San Francisco. I miss my communities, I miss seeing visibly gay people all the time, I miss being one in a huge population of trans folks so my other identities precede that one when people think of me. Rainbows here don’t mean the same thing – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a rainbow somewhere and had to remind myself that it doesn’t mean gay or safe. My appreciation for living in a city where I felt safe to be out and to take risks in coming out to help others struggling with their own identities, where I can tell someone I’m trans and they just get it, where even my science community was pretty queer, has grown. Anytime you move to a new place, we all want to feel understood, recognized. I’m struggling with how I want to do that here in this new place with this new cis-privilege that makes me happy and uncomfortable and completely unrecognizable by LGBT folks (which is the worst feeling). It’s hard. I’m working to make it better. It’s already getting better. I think I waited for that to happen to write this.
I’m going to try to get back to the regular monthly blog schedule. Since the end of July (my last post) a lot of things happened. The president of the company that compounds my testosterone, the ones who contaminated my last prescription, personally called me after I sent my contaminated vial back with a letter explaining to him how this mistake impacted me. We talked for an hour and he apologized, the first time anyone from the company has. He was completely transparent about what happened and what they are doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again. It was a simple M1V1:M2V2 error. It was closure I didn’t see coming. I reached my 1 year post-op landmark. I went to the beach without a shirt on and no one stared at my scars. I was invited to be part of an awesome team proposal to talk about trans medical care at a huge science conference next year. I moved to Hawaii and I love it. I’m experiencing living a life I had only dreamed about. And I know that it’s only a matter of time before my politics and scicomm and event planning and community service kick in and everyone will know I’m trans because it is an important part of my identity, of who I am. I have a Google Alert for “transgender”, and every night all the articles from the day show up in my inbox, and both the stories about trans teenagers whose parents have their backs and the reports of yet another devastating murder or suicide remind me how important community is. And I’m brewing plans for building it. But for now, I’m enjoying these few moments where life has loosened her grip and I get to experience what easy feels like for what seems like the first time, ever.