In the last week, I have both met Sarah McBride and read her memoir Tomorrow Will Be Different. I have laughed, cried (a lot), and have taken some time to ask myself two questions with which she has challenged me: Can I be proud to be trans, and what is my favorite part of being transgender?
Last Friday, I attended what may have been my first-ever book signing. A friend invited me to the event to see Sarah McBride talk about her freshly-published first memoir. Sarah is National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, was the first openly transgender person to intern at the White House, and was the first transgender person to speak at a major national political convention. Additionally, she has been a trans advocate in her home state of Delaware fighting for marriage and gender equality.
In her short speech at the Democratic National Convention (2016), she introduced herself as “a proud transgender American.” She also likes to ask people, “What is your favorite part of being transgender?” The ideas of being proud to be trans or having a favorite part of being transgender are difficult for me to grasp. Yes, I have attended Pride events the last two years, and I am beginning to find my advocate voice, but would I go so far as to say I am proud to be trans?
I have faced so many challenges in the transition process: the effective loss of my marriage, contemplation of suicide, isolation by my brother, the gazes and comments from unsettled cisgender people. I battle health insurance companies, others who question my hormone therapy, and even myself. The last 3 1/2 years (and really more than that) have been a real struggle. The effort to be find my authentic self has been exhausting and mentally taxing. Prior to facial feminization surgery (FFS), I routinely cried at my reflection in the mirror. Prior to vocal therapy, I feared my voice—even though it could have passed for androgynous—was a clear signal, at least to me, that I did not sound feminine. My main focus of 2017 was focusing on correcting those issues. The notion of pride was furthest from my mind. “Passing” and being comfortable with myself was much more of a concern.
I made significant progress last year in the face and voice departments, and as a result, I became much more comfortable with how I presented myself to the world. As much as I desire to “pass” in the world, I am more concerned with being authentic—representing myself in the most honest ways possible to myself and the world. To that end, I do not necessarily hide the fact that I am transgender, but not until I considered Sarah’s position did I really start to think that I could be proud of that status.
Being transgender does not define me; it is only a piece of who I am. When asked by the New York Times to introduce myself at the beginning of my audio recording for my “Conception” video, I introduced myself as a 40-year-old woman, mother of two. I did not specifically introduce myself as transgender. I intentionally shied away from that point, even though that was a primary reason I had been selected to take part in the series. Even the final 4 minutes, 40 second cut never uses the words trans or transgender. Why did I shy away from using those words? Because I do not want to be summarily defined that way. I fear that in today’s society that if I am simply seen as trans, all of my other special qualities may be overshadowed by that one fact by the cis-majority world.
However, this stance stands in my opposition of my desire to advocate for the transgender community. I have found my authentic self. Despite the challenges, I live that reality every single day with a freedom I have not felt in quite a long time. It’s beautiful and terrifying all at the same time. I could be happy raising my two children to be the best people they can be, who love both of their mothers. That alone would fill my heart. But as proud of a mother as I am, would that be enough to fill the whole of me? What about being fully proud of myself? Can I stand in front of a crowd and say that I am a proud transgender American? Can I stand up and advocate for a community that I have become attached to and invested in? Am I willing to risk my relative anonymity for the greater good as Sarah McBride has done?
My desire to help others is immense, but I can only do some much from the privacy of my own home (or a blog that is barely read). I have accepted myself. I am happy to be me. I can stand up in front of a crowd and say that I am doing the best I can. I can speak to a group and announce I am transgender and tell my story. I did that just six months after going full-time. I can now tell people that I am proud of myself, of who I am and what I can do in the future. And to that end, maybe I can come to terms that I am proud to be transgender because that is a part of who I am, and it need not wholly define me if I do not let myself or others do so.
As far as Sarah’s question, “What is my favorite part of being transgender?” By finding myself, I have been able to truly live my life authentically. What does that mean exactly?
I believe that whether a person is transgender or cisgender, that goal of a person’s life should be to live as authentically as possible. No fronts, no games, no living for others. Transitioning has shown me that I was I was effectively living a lie. I believed for years that I was a male with some female traits. I was different, and that was OK, no matter how much the bullies tried to tell me otherwise. Giving myself permission to dress as female characters at Halloween was socially acceptable despite being outside the norm. I could help plan a wedding with my bride-to-be and walk down the aisle at my wedding and guests would see that as original. I could be emotional and wear those emotions on my shoulder without being judged, because that just made me special and unique, right? But what about my secret desires to actually be the bride, be the mother in labor, be the princess everyday not just Halloween? I suppressed those needs. I hid them from the world. I hid them from myself. Now, those barriers are removed. I can admit to myself, to everyone, that I always wanted those things. I can move through the world as be the woman I never allowed myself to be because of this or that reason. I am free to be me in all of my magic.
So what is my favorite part of being transgender? The ability to be me without restriction, with total authenticity. I have a much deeper understanding of who I am and what I can accomplish. This a feeling that I think many cisgender people may never truly realize because they are not required to dig down into their souls to identify their own internal truths. Transition is painful, but it is eye-opening and ultimately rewarding.
So while I have only briefly met Sarah McBride and given her a hug, I must thank her for sharing her story and making me think more about myself. Can I be proud to be transgender? Can I view transition in a positive, rewarding light instead of casting it as a dark, tumultuous time in my life? That answer to both of those questions might quite possibly be “yes,” and acknowledging that may lead to a new drive to move forward in a new, fulfilling direction in my life.