Why you need to reject the idea of “passing” as cis

As I’m reading through some of the older articles by one of my favorite authors, Kai Cheng Thom, I came across this beauty:

How to Love Being a Non-Passing Trans Woman in 9 Affirming Steps

And I’m reminded how crucial accepting that fact was to my coming out journey.

There is so much pressure, both in the cisnormative world around us and from other trans people, to achieve some level of “passing” where people on the street or sometimes even people in the sheets can’t tell you are trans. For so many trans people, their ultimate goal is to get to a point where people think they are cisgender. And while there is a lot of power and safety in that and I absolutely do not blame people for wanting that, it is also a dangerous trap that can hold us back from truly being happy.

For so much of my life I thought that I couldn’t be trans because my body had grown in ways that I knew I could never reverse. With my broad shoulders, my strong chin, my large hands, my massive feet, and my deep bass singing voice, I knew that no matter how much surgery I had, I could never achieve my ideal of how I thought a woman should look. And I thought that meant that womanhood itself was hopelessly out of reach and at best I could just be a feminine man who was too attracted to women to be gay but too abnormal to be loveable. And it was largely because of that false belief that I allowed myself to settle for an abusive marriage.

For me at least, the path to self acceptance lay in embracing my femme identity with the full knowledge that I will never pass. I had to grieve the body I would never have and love the body I did have. I started out looking for the people who looked like I could when I started. Nonbinary icons who have never done medical transition and proudly display their beards and stubble like Alok Vaid Menon, Jacob Tobia, and Jeffrey Marsh. I surrounded myself with trans women so gorgeous that they take my breath away and I’ve slowly come to realize that I am that person for other people too. I leaned into the aspects of myself that I could make feminine for myself even if other people gendered them differently. I found joy in finding clothing that emphasized my tall frame and those rare gems that were size 13 heels.

I had to reject consciously and daily the idea that had to look traditionally feminine to be femme. Because femme at its core is a queer identity based in simultaneously embracing and queering feminine traits while rejecting many of the oppressive gender norms. My partners who are fiercely fat and femme helped me learn through this process how to hold yourself boldly even when you get glares in public for doing so. Of course I am not confident every day or even most of the time, but putting on that armor of femme identity helps push through those moments. I am femme despite society, not because of it. And finding my corner of weirdos and unconventional beauty helps me see the beauty in myself.

Once I had laid the groundwork in embracing my body and finding the parts of it that I love, only then could I truly identify what areas of my body needed change to fit MY dysphorias rather than what other people were projecting onto me. In many ways I truly loved my beard and how dramatic it made my face when paired with makeup and a dress. But I also could see how much happier I could be if I stopped avoiding my chin and made the necessary changes to bring it in line with who I want to be. And sometimes that means that things will get worse before they get better. But it is a lot easier to bear when I am doing these things for myself and not because I think I have to.

Another thing that has helped tremendously is realizing the incredible variety that exists within gender. For me, I like to look up to the cisgender women in my life like my mom who is 6 foot and my aunt who is 6’2″ and wears the same size shoes as me. And yes, sometimes they get accosted in restrooms about whether they belong but because they clearly do, it helps me know that I can too (not that I’ve actually worked up the courage for that yet). Women literally come in all shapes and sizes so don’t let someone tell you that you aren’t fully a woman because you look a certain way. They can shove off with their internalized misogyny.

Do I walk through the world confidently every day? Absolutely not. Do I love every aspect of my body? Hell no. Do I question the path I’ve taken? Sometimes. But I have earned my femininity just as much as someone who fits whatever this decade’s ideal of female beauty is. I am a nonbinary woman and I don’t need to pass.

You deserve love

The biggest thing I wish I’d know when I was 20 is that you deserve to be loved for who you are as a whole person, not despite it. And that is particularly true for trans and nonbinary people.
 
Don’t settle for someone who only loves a part of you. Don’t relegate yourself to people who only like your assigned gender. There are people out there who can and will love you for the complexity of who you are and who you are becoming. And yes, nothing is guaranteed to be permanent, but the biggest gift is finding someone that doesn’t expect you to be static but relishes the ways you grow and change.
 
For nonbinary people, sometimes that means not dating monosexuals like straight people or gays and lesbians. There is a whole big wide world out there of queers and pansexuals and bisexuals and more who don’t expect you to have a particular set of matching body parts and gender expressions.
 
You deserve to be loved for your gender, not despite it.

Resourcing myself

This winter was really rough for me. I wrote about my depression a little bit but mostly I didn’t have the mental energy to write a lot here since November. The short version is that the combination of the bleak political situation with the record rain and dark, long days we’ve had in Seattle forced me to confront the fact that my depression isn’t just situational. There are definitely things that make it worse but it’s clear that it is a bigger problem than just something wrong in my relationships or at work. My personal life is objectively better than it ever has been and yet I barely had the energy to get through the day most of the time.

But I did what I’m best at – I used my resources and courage to look for solutions. And luckily, I didn’t just look for a simple quick fix. It took a combination of a lot of factors to bring me out of it. I’m recording them here partly for my own sake so if/when this happens again I can recall what worked, but also to hopefully inspire others to take some steps towards radical self care.

First off, I have been seeing a great therapist since the beginning of last year who has helped me find ways to break patterns of anxiety and recognize my triggers early enough to help get out of the cycles. But even the best self soothing and awareness only seems to work for me when I’m dealing with the “normal” amount of mental health challenges for me. When I add the layer of depression on top of my anxiety, ADD, and PTSD, I get stuck.

So I found myself a psychiatrist (well technically an ARNP) and started working on finding the right antidepressant for brain. The first try with Lexapro was disastrous – I had a bunch of side effects including worsening anxiety. And even with the second try, Zoloft, it took a long time to find the right dose. But now things seem to have leveled out and I can tell there is a huge difference in my ability to self manage my mental health.

Another important factor was (re)engaging heavily in my core relationship building. Being depressed can take a heavy toll on the people around you and I know I was much more irritable for a long time and my libido was way out of wack. Things aren’t perfect but now I can confidently say I’m feeling a sense of secure attachment and I can see the growth and evolution of my relationships instead of stagnation. I have two romantic relationships that have passed the two year mark and I’ve built a chosen family around myself that can weather a lot of change.

One aspect I didn’t anticipate being such an important key was my physical health. I tend to be pretty good about going to the doctor but I had stopped going to the chiropractor last year due to money and schedules. My back and neck clearly weren’t ready for that though because as I was trying to track my mood for medications, I noticed an unusual pattern. My anxiety was peaking shortly after I arrived at work and again at the end of the day. It turns out that was when my neck pain was worst and it was so bad that it was breaking down my ability to manage my mental health. So I found a new chiropractor who I’ve been seeing weekly and it is making a world of difference.

Finally, at my therapist’s encouragement, I took steps to bring things back into my life that ignite my creativity and passion. I am starting a trans acapella group and even though we haven’t met yet, I can tell the excitement of that is giving my mental health a big boost.

The weather and longer days are of course helping too but between all these factors, I am radically better than I have been in months. My energy has returned, I don’t need to constantly take time every day for pain management, and I can be myself finally. This in turn gives me motivation to do more things that I love like open myself back up to new dating opportunities and see friends more. The positive feedback loop of well managed mental heath sure takes a long time to get going but I’m glad it has finally kicked in.

Infinite Love

So I want to talk about one of my biggest barriers to coming out and living as my truest self. The fear that nobody would love me. Hardly a unique phobia and certainly not specific to being trans. But it can hold you back if you let it.

I first started exploring my gender in college when I began accessing language to describe my experiences. I think that trajectory would have led me to coming out 5 years earlier if it hadn’t gotten sidetracked by getting married at 21. It’s a long story and off track for this blog but besides getting married too young we had a multitude of other problems that were apparent pretty early on in my 6 year marriage. And all of those problems meant that my personal growth got put on the back burner.

The biggest thing that contributed to me getting in that relationship in the first place and held me back from letting go of it when it wasn’t working was my fear of being alone and not finding someone who would love me for being me even as much as she did. When I did finally discover myself as a genderqueer pansexual, my wife asked me not to come out widely because she didn’t want to answer questions about my identity and sexuality. That alone should have been a sign that I wasn’t actually loved for who I was but yet I clung on for another 4 months before I got the nerve to leave. All because of this irrational yet common fear.

What I found beyond the confines of my straight, monogamous, ciscentric marriage was a world of infinite love and a community where I could be accepted both for who I was now and for who I would be tomorrow. I found my way through OKCupid and Meetup.com groups into the vast, semi-secret world of queer polyamory.

For those not familiar, polyamory is a form of ethical non-monogamy focused on informed consent of all partners involved and centered around the idea that love is not a finite resource to be hoarded but an infinite pool that only grows when love abounds. Time is of course the limiting factor and everyone has a practical limit to the number of authentic relationships they can juggle, whether that is friends or intimate partners. But in poly I found both friends and partners (and many shades in-between) who are unafraid to use the word love, who can open up the vulnerable parts of their hearts honestly, and who embrace my identity, even when they don’t understand it.

Today I have an amazing fiancee who I live with, two wonderful girlfriends with partners of their own, and a multitude of friends and lovers in community with each other. All of us encouraging each other to be ourselves and love ourselves as we are.

I’m not going to pretend it’s a magical fairyland with no problems or transphobes but beyond the heteronormative veneer you see in the press, the poly community I have seen is the most accepting place I can imagine. And more importantly, I learned that it’s ok to be “picky,” that I should and could be loved for who I am, and that I don’t need to be everything that one partner might need.

I’m not saying polyamory is for everyone or that it is the only way to find love outside the binary. That’s just an important part of my story in finding access to the idea that love is not finite. The key detail here is that you can find people who love you for who you are and you don’t need to compromise your identity to be lovable. But that fear of loneliness and the concept of love as a scarce resource are barriers to finding that happiness.

Live your life proudly and boldly as your truest self. I believe that is the sexiest thing you can do. And when you do that, people will want to be around you and you have a better chance at finding someone who loves you as much as you hopefully love yourself. When we hide who we are we lose our best shot at authentic relationship with other human beings.

Sure, you may lose some “friendships” that you never really had in the first place. But I bet you would lose them as soon as something serious happened in your life anyway. And there are real and tangible dangers to being out and visible. But find the places were you are safe, the communities where you can be real, and do exactly that. Be REAL, authentic, vulnerable, and honest. Once you start letting go of the idea that you aren’t deserving of love (which can be a lifelong process) then you can find it.