Portraits of Alessa by Richard Windslow
Does the sound of me peeing give me away? Are people looking at me through stalls and getting grossed out? Was that cough manly? That laugh? The lighting in this room is making my bone structure really harsh. Why has that person been staring at me for so long? Are they checking me out or clocking me? They keep pausing their conversation to look at me. She looked at me, said something, and now they’re all staring. Did that kid just ask her parent if I was a girl or a boy? Did that woman just say, “That’s a man?” I’m not going out today, my face looks manly.
For those who don’t deal with daily gender dysphoria, diving into a transperson’s brain would make us all seem insane, or at least OCD about mundane regular occurrences. We’ve made social advances in recent months toward a comfortable genderless world, but as people try harder to be politically correct, it seems as if they’re adopting gender identities and sexualities that seem disingenuous.
A few years after Tumblr launched, social justice issues became one of the biggest trends talked about by users. Gender and sexuality issues in particular were being discussed at large, including the introduction of new terms to describe people’s identities. Many were quick to join the bandwagon, labeling themselves as androgynous, questioning, asexual or genderqueer. Of course, some of these people were genuinely looking for ways to identify themselves, as no term had yet been created and popularized to describe them. I’m all for people finding community, as I too had to peel back the layers of repression I’d encapsulated my true identity inside, but as with any trend, there seemed to be a lot of people going along and adopting these identities just to make themselves seem interesting. The same applies today, if not more.
My first memory of any sign of gender dysphoria began when I was staying at my grandmother’s house, right after moving to Florida. My mother bought me a plastic jump rope and I decided to tie it around my forehead to pretend it was hair. My father walked in, noticed, and figured out why I’d done it, telling me to take it off immediately. For some reason my mother stuck up for me and told him I was “pretending it was a ninja headband.” Some time in the future, still at my grandmother’s house, I was sitting in the kitchen when my father interrupted the conversation he was having to tell me to not let my hands hang over the chair’s arm rests because I was acting “like a fucking girl.” I felt humiliated, of course, and began trying to watch my movements more carefully.
Typical to what most psychiatrists view as a “trans-indicator,” I fell in love with The Little Mermaid after just one viewing. I now realize that I was probably drawn to the narrative of the bottom half of Ariel’s body not being what she wanted, but then I just assumed my obsession was because of mermaids’ ethereal quality. I’d pass by Barbies with mermaid tails at the toy store and long for them, but knew asking for one would be in vain; my playing with mermaids instead of G.I. Joes felt like an unattainable dream. Somehow my prayers were eventually answered in the form of a family friend’s daughter, who had a few Barbie mermaids in her possession; that became my little outlet to play.
I made a small breakthrough with my mother after the Atlantis movie came out. Somehow I convinced her to buy me the female-lead’s doll, but was told to swear I wouldn’t mention it to my dad. That secret, as most that have physical evidence, was not kept hidden long, as he walked in on me pretending my dolls were having sex. First, his anger was directed toward their nudity, but then it caused an argument between my parents concerning the fact that I owned a doll in the first place.
Sure, many Latin males’ fathers and other family members would also reprimand them for acting feminine in the slightest. That’s damaging for anyone, but for someone who was experiencing gender dysphoria at a young age and acting feminine unintentionally, it was especially traumatic. I repressed and repressed until I convinced myself I was a straight Christian male, although that only lasted 7th grade, when I began seriously questioning God and revisited my attraction to men.
Although I began expressing myself freely for more than three years at this point, there was still something that wasn’t right in my life. That, coupled with a bad living situation pushed me to attempt suicide via pills. I wasn’t really trying to kill myself, but I didn’t really care if my life ended as a result. Luckily, I threw up all the pills and a few months after, I decided I’d do something productive in my fight to find my identity.
Months of research on puberty halting followed, when I finally discovered that I could obtain testosterone blockers online without a prescription; I purchased those on my 18th birthday and a month later, to my surprise, I began developing breasts. At this point, that wasn’t my goal—most of my focus was on minimizing body hair development and stopping beard growth, but I mulled it over and slowly became okay with the change. I reached a turning point when I realized I couldn’t take high doses of testosterone blockers alone without experiencing osteoporosis, so I had to make a decision on whether I wanted to add estrogen to my regimen or stop it all and let myself finish puberty. I chose the former and decided that once I moved from Florida, I’d leave the male me behind for the true female self I had locked away since I was eight.
From my sophomore year of high school until my freshman year of high school, I became active on Tumblr. I’d give updates about my life, especially when I decided to transition, as I had no other outlet to speak about my experiences on. After a while, I started garnering some attention through Tumblr, to the point where people who were scared to transition would privately reach out to me. One of those people told me about a secret Facebook group catering to transwomen that was a safe place from people predating us sexually; I was elated, as I’d felt alone most of my life in regards to my identity.
“The Network,” as its members called it, was entertaining at first. It was nice seeing people accomplishing their goals, whether it was finding love or finally having enough money for surgery, a birth certificate change, school, a car, a house or hormones. Then there were the semi-famous transwomen that were in the group for a while, including Janet Mock, Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera, who sometimes gave us glimpses of their lives in a candid light. All of them were eventually chased out of the group by cattiness from other members. I can admit that I was entertained by that cattiness for a while, until it began escalating out of control, where people’s lives were being messed with because of information being shared in the group or sent to the wrong people.
I began noticing how easily molded the younger girls in the group were, and looking back, I don’t blame them. But it’s not a healthy environment for a 16-year-old to be seeing more than 20 escorts posting piles of cash, drugs, designer clothing, silicon injections and surgeries on a daily basis. Escorting gets glamorized by people having celebrity clients and getting quick cash without needing experience, and although there are posts about the nightmares that occur in that profession, impressionable girls seemed to just gloss over it because they saw no quicker way of being passable and independent.
Then there were posts claiming you were a man until you did x, y or z. I witnessed too many young girls getting swept up by that mess and going along with it, as if it was the only option they had. Even I became a bit brainwashed by the dysphoric ramble that I questioned myself for the way I dressed, wondering if I’d pass more if I made myself more “normal.” Girls spoke about their longing to wear super high heels or really short skirts, but they purposely made themselves plain because that’s the only way they thought they’d pass under-the-radar. When you’re part of a marginalized group that’s constantly having its members murdered or beaten, whom else are you going to listen to?
Looking back at what I’ve witnessed thus far, I’m beginning to question the genderqueer trend and its readiness to be on the same low-rung ladder of privilege as transwomen or men. While, yes, some of those who safely identify as genderqueer may account for media portrayal of violence against transpeople, no one is actually attacking them or their rights as a group. Unless they decided to change their pronouns and present themselves in a manner that’s pointedly ambiguous, they won’t have much, if any trouble in public or with relationships.
They’ll never have to worry about their partner killing them or never introducing them to their family out of shame; they won’t have to spend hundreds of thousands on therapy, hormones, doctor visits, surgeries and all the legal trouble that goes with transitioning from one sex to the other. Sex work won’t seem like the only option after being cast out by their family or denied jobs because of an appearance incongruent to what they propose themselves to be. Sometimes being trans feels like living the burden of two lives at once.
I don’t hate or negate the genderqueer existence, I just question when I see a bearded male with a penis who only dates people with vaginas equating their life to someone who has been fighting their whole lives because of feeling betrayed by their family and own body. Self-identifying as genderqueer is like saying, “I don’t have that struggle; I am content in my body (well, for the most part— I’m content with my genitalia and boobs) and I don’t have to correct people when they say a third-person pronoun because, I identify as a ‘She.’”
This is why appropriating genderqueer sucks; the idea of a genderless utopia would be great to me and I’m glad people are trying hard to break the binary, but I’m not trying to completely change the world to fit my ideals—I’d rather find a place that already exists for me to fit into. If people ever do decide to stop using male and female pronouns in a widespread manner it’d probably be in centuries.