Although visibility has come far in the trans and gender non-conforming community, it is important that we keep our youth in mind.
Navigating my gender identity as a transgender woman has been an arduous yet fulfilling journey. I grew up during a time when trans visibility wasn’t gaining the traction that we see today. As a young child, growing up in a Southern Baptist family in North Carolina, I was always seen as the black sheep or “the one who stood out”. I loved to wear my grandmother’s high heels and I would wear towels on my head to mimic long, flowing hair. I was mocked and ridiculed in school when all the boys went through puberty, and I was the kid whose voice remained one octave higher than what was preferred. I was called every kind of homophobic slur you can think of, and often I didn’t feel comfortable expressing myself as I felt too alienated.
“I was talking to my twin brother today about whether he believes I had male privilege growing up. I was a very feminine child though I was assigned male at birth. My gender was constantly policed. I was told I acted like a girl and was bullied and shamed for that. My femininity did not make me feel privileged.”
Laverne went on to say:
“So though I was assigned male at birth I would contend that I did not enjoy male privilege prior to my transition. Patriarchy and cissexism punished my femininity and gender nonconformity.”
Many transgender men, women and non binary people alike, can relate to having felt punished growing up for not sticking to the status quo of the gender binary, because we were anything but cisgender, even if we did not have the language to understand it.
We all know the challenges that come with childhood, as youth navigate school life, peer pressure and puberty, and growing up to find their place in the world. Adding on the layer of being TGNC (transgender/gender non-conforming), reveals a harsh reality. A survey conducted by GLSEN, reveals 65% of transgender students feel unsafe at school, in addition to facing verbal and physical harassment regarding their gender identity. According to The Williams Institute, an estimated 150,000 youth identify as transgender or gender non-conforming (TGNC), making the highest percentage of individuals in the United States who identify as TGNC. These statistics however, underrepresent the vast majority of youth who are unreported and those who have not come out yet.
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TGNC youth face problems at home, at school, in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, where discrimination often goes unchecked. According to the National Center of Transgender Equality, 59% of TGNC youth have been denied access to restrooms that align with their gender identity, a barrier created by legislatures hellbent on erasing their identities. Earlier this year, Gavin Grimm, a transgender student in Virginia, won a lawsuit against the Gloucester County school board, in his efforts to use the boys’ bathroom at his high school. Although Gavin was a fighter who stood for civil liberties that should be given to all trans and gender non-conforming people, he should not have had to fight to simply use the restroom.
Although visibility has come far in the TGNC community, it is important that we keep our youth in mind—many of us did not have others within our community to look up to, and we have to ensure that never happens again. Wear Your Voice interviewed 10 transgender and gender non-conforming people on advice they would like to give to our youth on their journey.
When I first decided that I was transitioning, I did so alone. I’m about two years into my transition at this point and now I have and am continuing to build a community of trans siblings around me. If I could tell myself anything, it would be to find your people. Find the people that encourage you, make you feel good, the people that gas you up! We aren’t meant to operate in isolation.
For the longest time in the beginning of my transition, I’d find myself using the wrong pronouns when I thought about myself. This was something I’d never heard about other trans people doing and it made me question my gender identity. I thought that sense I’m misgendering myself in my head then maybe my gender identity was less valid. It wasn’t until later that I realized I wasn’t the only trans person who does this. Unlearning the rigid gender roles society has placed on us is a process and it doesn’t happen overnight. As you learn who you are — be gentle if you think about yourself as anything other than how you identify. If you find yourself using pronouns other than your preferred pronouns, when you think about yourself or even talk about yourself, be gentle. It doesn’t make you any less trans, or non binary. It’s a process. Be patient with yourself.
I think the biggest source of anxiety, fear and insecurity, that I ran into throughout my youth and especially when navigating my gender identity was that I felt like I was always doing things the wrong way — or that there was one correct way to be the gender I was.
I think it’s important to investigate what your life has taught you about gender or how people are “supposed to” behave. Often the way we’ve been taught to act, to treat or judge others, and engage with the world and people around us, is rooted in humiliation, shame, and fear. We’re taught not to be a certain way or reveal certain things because we may face ridicule, judgement, or even violence.
In a society that doesn’t have active, healthy representation for transgender people, we can be treated like outsiders and can have trouble understanding who we are because everything we’ve been taught is different from how we feel.
The secret is that there’s no one way to be. There’s things that we’re taught are more “socially acceptable”, like identifying with our assigned genders, and then there’s the reality that being human is complex.
The world may not yet celebrate our experiences or identities, but that doesn’t mean we should hold ourselves back from being our fullest person or that there’s anything wrong with who we are or how we live.
Take your time. Give yourself a chance to learn who you are without fear of not being like everyone else. Remember that you’re just as deserving of taking up space and carving your own unique reality into existence as every other person on this planet.
You don’t have to be fearless. You don’t have to pretend it’s not scary. You just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
We are everywhere. It may not seem that way — depending on where you live and who you know. But there have been people like us, like you, living our beautiful truths since the dawn of humanity. I can’t lie, some parts of the road may feel lonely, and sometimes it gets worse before it gets better. But you’re not struggling alone. We love and we fight, some of us in the spotlights and some of us in the shadows, but all of us united by the grand tradition of being ourselves. And I can’t wait to meet you.
No matter how you’re feeling or what you’re going through, there are people like me and thousands of other people who understand your feelings and experiences, you are not alone. You and your feelings are valid. I know what it’s like to not feel comfortable in the body you were born with and to struggle with dysphoria every day. Often times kids and teens are looked at as if they don’t know who they truly are or what is best for them; that what they are going through is all a “phase” but in all reality you know yourself better than anyone. Don’t let anyone try to tell you who you are or aren’t. Know that your life now in the body you’re in is only temporary and that there will be a time when you look back and see how far you’ve come — a time when you can look yourself in the mirror and recognize who’s smiling back. Most of all stand tall and be proud of who are you, listen to yourself; ignore anyone who doubts, hates or judges you because those people are never worth your time or attention.
Gender is weird and confusing. But just because you might not understand how you feel about your gender right now doesn’t mean you have to be afraid of or run away from those feelings. I spent a huge chunk of my tween and teen years knowing I felt different from everyone else, but I ran away from exploring what that meant. It’s easy to get scared when you don’t know how to explain or define the feelings you’re having, but it can be exciting too. There’s an entire universe within you, waiting to be explored! And if it’s too scary to explore on your own, ask a friend or an adult that you trust to help you find your way.
I came out pretty late in life due to me not knowing that my gender was valid. I believe I would’ve lived my life much differently if I’d known and had the language to know I was non binary from the start.
I’ve learned that no one can decide whether you are trans but yourself. Your validity as a trans person isn’t dependent on anything other than you identifying as a gender(s) other than the one assigned to you at birth, or you don’t identify as a gender at all. That’s it. There is no rule book. And don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Never stop learning new things about yourself and others. Always be open to any and all possibilities, and have confidence in everything that you do. As cliche as it sounds — you have to live for yourself. You live as an individual who has the capacity to change other people’s lives as well as your own — so why not be happy in your own skin while doing it? Even if you’re not in a place where you can fully express yourself; that place is out there, it can be made and it can be obtained.
Be you. Don’t listen to any negativity. Cut it out and throw it in the trash. Be the fabulous you and own it! Don’t show fear, hold your head up high and walk that walk!
Camilla Akasha Rose, 26, She/Her/Hers
Growing up as child it was very hard to understand myself, because I knew I was different. As I got older, I began to notice my femininity — which quite frankly scared the hell out of me. It scared me because I was insecure about showing my femininity in front of others, and I was uncomfortable with being othered. I remember how I would try to suppress my gender expression, only allowing myself to be the whole of who I am at nightclubs where I would perform in amateur drag shows.
The pivotal moment in my life, in coming to understand myself as the transgender girl I am today, was the night I met a good friend of mine whom I thought was another person in drag, only to discover that she was transgender. It was like the blindfold had come off of my eyes and I was seeing myself clearly for the first time. She taught me that even though people point and look at me and say mean things, at the end of the day — I am who I am. And I have nothing to apologize for and I am unwavering in that knowing. I will never change myself to be liked for all of the wrong reasons, when I can be happy for all of the right ones.
So always be yourself and never let anyone tell you differently. There will be times when you feel as if there’s a personal rain cloud over your head — and you can choose to stand there and get soaked while feeling gloomy or you can dance in the rain and find something to celebrate. You can’t control others actions, but your power lies not in other people, but in yourself and how you choose to respond and feel about other people’s behaviors.
People are going to say things to bring you down, so what? That is just the way it is. Always keep your head up and look fabulous while doing it. In the words of RuPaul “how the hell are you going to love yourself, before you love anybody else?”
Stay true to yourself inside and out. I love you. And you’ve got this.
Above all else, trust yourself. I spent years trying to explain away the feeling that I knew I wasn’t cis, because I knew wasn’t trans. I am non binary, but I felt as though I didn’t present as gender non-conforming as a lot of non binary people.
Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, don’t judge yourself by another person’s standards. Believe in yourself, you know who you are.
This article was made possible thanks to our patron Christal Yuen, whose support on Patreon helps ensure that we can pay one writer every month!
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