Trans Summer School: Am I Trans Enough?
Am I trans enough?
It’s probably one of the most pervasive questions for trans and otherwise gender nonconforming people, and if you think you’re the first one to have had it cross your mind, I’m sorry to say that you’re not. Nearly every transgender person has experienced self-doubt, and for some, it is an ongoing struggle.
The short answer to this question is: Yes. You are. Your gender is not something that can be defined by other people. It is yours. If you are trans or gender nonconforming, there’s no “enough” about it — you just are, whether you’re transitioning or not, whatever your gender (or nongender) may be, no matter what you look like or who you are, whether you can only be yourself in private at home or you’re proudly out in public. Anyone who tries to deny your gender — including fellow trans and otherwise gender nonconforming people — is denying your humanity, and that person is also transphobic.
If you’re having self-doubts about your gender, take some deep breaths, find a calm place to be for a while, and just be yourself in that quiet space. Know that you are not alone in these feelings. Know that being in a trans community can help you feel less alienated and alone — whether that’s online or in person. Watch some trans-made media. Read books by trans people. Listen to trans musicians and check out trans artists. Check out #TransIsBeautiful.
“But isn’t being trans or otherwise gender nonconforming about transition?”
No. It’s about gender — and transition can help people express their genders and live in bodies that make them feel whole and comfortable, but transition doesn’t define transness.
Some people aren’t interested in social or medical transition and don’t intend to pursue it at all, or at least for right now. Other people can’t afford to access medical transition, and/or would be endangered by social transition. Those people are all transgender — whether you have OEM or aftermarket parts, your gender isn’t about where your hair is growing, what’s between your legs, whether you do or don’t have breasts, the planes of your face, whether you can and can’t have children, which hormones are in your body, or anything else. Your gender expression may shape what you look like, but what you look like doesn’t define your gender.
Many people want to transition and experience intense dysphoria if they can’t access it. But they’re not “less trans” for not being able to access what they need to live as themselves. Some people view their gender as a slow evolution — sometimes even as body modification! — and don’t think of transness as having a clear beginning or endpoint, because it’s an identity. Other people find that transition isn’t for them, but that doesn’t magically devalue or reverse their gender.
When Caitlyn Jenner came out on the cover of Vanity Fair, trans actress and commentator Laverne Cox wrote about her complicated mixed feelings surrounding the cover and how the response interacted with passing privilege (her ability to look like what people think a woman should look like, i.e. a conventionally attractive cis woman). Was Jenner celebrated so much not just for being brave enough to come out in a major magazine, but also for adhering to cisnormative beauty standards?
There are many trans folks because of genetics and/or lack of material access who will never be able to embody these standards. More importantly many trans folks don’t want to embody them and we shouldn’t have to to be seen as ourselves and respected as ourselves. It is important to note that these standards are also informed by race, class and ability among other intersections.
Historically, there’s been a lot of policing of trans and otherwise gender nonconforming people, and not just from cis people who think they’re the arbiters of gender. Sadly, some people within the community do it too — they make judgmental comments about people who don’t “pass,” or people who aren’t binary trans people, or people who don’t want to transition. It’s hard to see cisnormatively beautiful trans and otherwise gender nonconforming people celebrated when people who don’t look like that are hidden, and when they’re being told that they aren’t trans enough. This isn’t necessarily the fault of binary trans people with passing privilege, but it can contribute to feelings of inadequacy — which is part of the reason Cox started #TransIsBeautiful, celebrating trans and otherwise gender nonconforming people from a huge variety of backgrounds.
Some transgender or otherwise gender nonconforming people enjoy certain privileges, which sometimes interact in a complicated way — the trans woman who “passes,” but still experiences racism and violent transphobia if she’s outed, or the genderqueer person who can be forcibly passed as a man, thereby avoiding some transphobic attention while experiencing dysphoria every time someone calls them “he.” As you explore your gender and how you relate to it, you may identify your own privileges and oppressions, and interact with trans people from different walks of life, but this ain’t the Oppression Olympics. We all have our own paths to travel.
Being transgender or otherwise gender nonconforming isn’t a road trip, a competition, or any other weird metaphor. Everyone defines and relates to gender in their own way, and there’s no wrong way to gender. You’re not disqualified from the trans or otherwise gender nonconforming community if you aren’t unrelentingly sad all the time, if you have fun with gender, if you’re genderfluid, if you don’t want to transition, if you’re a lady who doesn’t care if people think you look like a man, if you’re not binary, if you participate in gendered activities. If your brain wants to tell you that you’re not trans enough, tell your brain it’s wrong, and if someone around you says it, tell that person that they’re wrong, too.
You are a beautiful and wonderful and splendid person, wherever you are in your life and along your journey. And you’re trans enough right this very second, no matter where you are in your journey.
I hope you enjoyed your time at Trans Summer School, and that you’ve come away with useful resources and food for thought. No matter where you are in your relationship to gender, and no matter who you are, a world of possibility is opening up before you, and you may have more friends than you know, because I'll let you in on a little secret: being trans is actually pretty great.
Previously on Trans Summer School: When Things Go Wrong.