Today’s guest post is by Hex.
As a non-binary person who is just starting to physically transition, I’ve been thinking a lot about the way that process is valued by queer and allied communities. I’ve been out as trans for almost a year now. I’ve been using the same pronouns and presenting myself roughly in the same way for most of that time. About two months ago I started taking testosterone. Soon after starting I told an acquaintance about it and she immediately said “Oh, I have a friend who’s doing a project and wants to include a trans voice. Can I give him your name?” Of course, the tokenism at work here could be the subject of a whole post of its own, but the salient point is that I had been trans all along, but it was only after starting hormones that she thought to mention this. In fact, as people found out about my taking hormones – long before there were any actual effects – my preferred pronouns were used more consistently. I started getting requests to sit on panels or to lead trainings. In short, people became noticeably more respectful of my identity.
This is a problem I see happening over and over again in different communities. Despite rhetoric about self-identification being the most important thing, time and again I see hierarchies of who is “really” trans being constructed around who fits the dominant narrative of physical transition, mirroring our mainstream media’s obsession about the physical aspects of transition. The ones who are most respected are the ones who, like me, take medical steps to change their bodies. This ignores the fact that many people who are as legitimately trans as me choose not to or are unable to access these things.
There are a lot of reasons why people don’t take hormones or get surgery. Some people simply don’t want to. It doesn’t fit with who they feel themselves to be or what they want from their body. Others choose not to because they might be unsafe if they did so. In most states, out trans people are not protected from losing jobs or housing simply for being trans. There is also a huge risk of violence that people who are identifiably trans face. In many other cases, people simply can’t gain access to wanted and needed medical care. I occupy an extremely privileged position: I am able to get to a nearby city that has an informed consent clinic* and a program that covers most of the costs of hormones, and I have student insurance that covers doctor’s visits. The majority of trans people do not have access to a doctor who will prescribe hormones without a lengthy process. Most of them are required to prove who they are to a medical establishment that has a long history of violence against trans people, and are forced to pay out of pocket for this privilege because insurance companies have not yet accepted being trans as a legitimate reason for medical care. This doesn’t even start on the fact that, because of widespread transmisogyny, the standards for determining “transness” are far stricter for AMAB (assigned male at birth) trans people than AFAB (assigned female at birth) trans people.**
This process is something that is not emotionally or financially possible for many people to go through, and the ones who are least able to do so are disproportionately those who are already disadvantages, like people of color and people living through poverty or homelessness.
As for the acquaintance who asked me to help with her friend’s project? Perhaps I should have said no, but I didn’t. I’m of the mind that it’s generally a good thing to have voices – preferably plural – from the trans community as part of dialogue. But it worries me that the people being asked to speak for the trans community consistently represent only a tiny portion of that community, generally the part that is white, AFAB, articulate in a very middle-class way, and follows an easily identifiable narrative of physical transition.
For any trans people reading this, just know that your identity is valid and deserving of respect no matter what you decide to do or not do with your body. There is a lot of pressure to follow specific steps, but that is a very individual decision, one that only you can make. And if you’re not trans, you need to understand that it is not your right to decide who is trans or not, or whose name and pronouns you need to respect. If someone identifies as trans, they are trans. Period.
*There are two main systems by which a person’s eligibility for hormones/surgery is decided. The more common and older one is WPATH’s Standards of Care which requires months of therapy and has limited provisions for anyone who doesn’t conform to rigid gender stereotypes. The other strategy, which, luckily, is becoming more and more widespread, is Informed Consent, which essentially means that if you know about all possible risks and effects of your choice and are legally able to consent, you can have access to any medical care that you want.
**AMAB – assigned male at birth, AFAB – assigned female at birth. I hate to have to identify people by the gender they were assigned at birth, since in most cases they were never that gender. However, because of differences in the oppression faced by these groups, I think it’s an important distinction to make. But I really wish these terms weren’t necessary!