This Trans Voice: Rachel S.

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This is the kick-off of a new segment of this blog, “This Trans Voice.” Consider it a “guest blogger” opportunity for persons who are transgender who I’ve invited to share their story and insights with you.

Our guest blogger today is Rachel S. You are in for a real treat, she put a lot of effort and heart into this piece!

I was asked to consider what it was about my experience of being trans that I would like folks to understand. My first thought was something along the lines of, “I wish more folks were interested in understanding the trans experience.”  I quickly realized that I was already speaking into the world of no listening.

Please let me explain; we are powerful beings whose entire experience of existence arises in language. Attention to the phrases that govern our minds is at least as important as the words that come out of our mouths. My thought that people aren’t interested in trans issues or trans experience actually contributed to the idea that people aren’t interested in trans issues or trans experience and actually created the space for that to arise in my world. Most of us do this almost entirely without thought and we do it about everything. I choose to be present to this and take responsibility for how my world arises.

By the way, responsibility is different than blame. Blame makes me the victim and gives me no power. Responsibility, on the other hand, gives me power—I created this, I can change it.

So then, try this on. “People really are interested in learning more about the experience of being trans and about how they can be supportive of trans people as they experience the issues that inevitably arise as part of the trans experience.” In speaking about these issues, trans folk raise the awareness and understanding of their friends and families, their communities, and ultimately the world. Sharing this experience with compassion, consideration, and Love benefits every facet of society. That is a much stronger, more responsible place to stand!

As if you hadn’t guessed, being trans requires, aye verily demands, that you take responsibility for your life and for your choices. Many, though by no means all of us, knew at a very early age that we were different. For me, that sense of difference arose from the tension created by the disparity between what my parents or others I respected said and believed to be true and what I knew at my core to be true—I am a woman.

I am thankful to my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQIA community for having worked so diligently over the years to provide clear strong voices of respect and reason in the face of confusion, fear, and even hate. When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, trans folk were largely not understood and often turned into caricatures to be made fun of in the popular media. As a result, I did everything in my power to spare my parents, my friends, and my communities the embarrassment of having a trans person in their midst—I could definitely understand, I didn’t identify with images like Dr. Frank-N-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the guys in “Bosom Buddies”, or Klinger from “M.A.S.H.”

I just knew that being trans was something to be ashamed of even before I knew the word. It’s not of course, but that took me a bit to sort through. I simply had no good examples to consider. This was before the internet, before the personal computer, before cable TV, before the cell phone. Hell, rotary phones were still around and gas was $0.65/gallon when I started driving. By the time I knew it was possible, and even becoming acceptable to transition, I was married with kids. What I’m trying to communicate is that I did the best I could with what I had. I believed that the shame of me coming out as trans would destroy the relationships I held most dear.

The power of that story cannot be understated. I did not and do not want to go it alone. That alone held me in misery for many years. I was too scared to be myself and unable to share it with anyone. I never wanted to confuse or hurt those I care about. My male persona was carefully constructed by stitching together strategies that worked consistently and kept me safe, secure, respected, and even liked and loved but it was generally very cold and rational. The years of holding it together by sheer will wore on my emotional reserves and I was often irritable, sardonic, sarcastic, and sometimes just plain mean.

Even my voice was assembled purposefully. It was a hybrid of my father and my step father’s voices woven together with the craft and artistry of each male professional speaker I had the opportunity to hear. I took the timing and intonation that worked for them and integrated it into my own creating a voice that could easily hold and inspire a room full of people.

The point of all of this is that my male persona showed very little of me other than my ingenuity and will to survive come what may. Now that I’ve set it aside, I’ve been discovering myself and so have the people in my life. At my core, I am the same but I don’t feel like I need the strategies that supported my male persona. Being me, being a woman, feels much more organic. It’s more like art in motion, creating on the fly. For one thing, I’ve gone from bottling my emotions, all two or three of them, to experiencing them fully as they happen, all twenty to thirty of them often at the same time.  I don’t get stuck in a funk like I once did. I feel like I could do anything most days.

Unfortunately, society still has a funny view of women. Folks that used to take my opinion as gold now routinely question my reasoning.  My voice has none of the sonorous tone and charming quality of the boy voice, people often fail to hear me and I repeat myself more often. It makes me wonder if they are listening to me differently. I do find that I keep my opinions to myself more and that I’m asked about my opinion less. The male persona would immediately face any conflict head on. The female is more patient and somewhat less direct. As a result, I’ve made fewer errors in judgment. However, those I have made have been emotionally driven.

I am blessed to pass well most days—not all of us do. It’s a relief to pass unnoticed save for the occasional admiring glance. I don’t enjoy being sized up like a piece of meat but I enjoy turning a head or two. On the few occasions that I’ve gone out without makeup and unshaven en femme, I can feel the confusion bordering on irritation from those that notice—it’s an unfortunate necessity when you’re doing hair removal on your face. It’s frustrating to be judged so harshly. Interestingly, it tends to be women that notice first.

It seems odd to me that, in the land of the brave, so many are still so fearful of what they don’t understand.

I want folks to know that this really is who I am. I want them to love and accept me for that. This seems more challenging for folks that knew me as a man. There is a period of mourning for many folks as they set the man aside. I’ve done my best to be patient with folks as they go through all the phases of grief. In some cases, this was over very quickly. In others, it’s still an active process months after the fact. The hardest coping mechanism to allow space for is avoidance. I automatically feel rejected and must take a moment to adjust my perspective – this is simply how some folks get through life. It’s not personal.

One thing I definitely don’t like at all is the concept of tolerance. Tolerance feels snooty and insincere. I’d much prefer people choose to love and support me or not as either decision is easier to respect than, “I guess I can deal with you if I have to.” When people do this, they’re generally reacting out of fear. Nobody likes to feel like everyone is walking on eggshells around them.

This post is getting a bit long so I’ll wrap it up with a list. It’s by no means an all-inclusive list but if you consider it in the context of what I’ve already written, it should make sense.

  • I absolutely did not choose to be trans. I did choose to transition.
  • I am a woman. I was a woman when you thought I was a man too.
  • Genitals are not the determining factor of gender, sex is. And even that doesn’t hold true in every case.
  • I feel it every time you are uncomfortable with me and it hurts.
  • No one likes to be avoided or ignored.
  • I am not a freak, deviant, criminal, drug addict, alcoholic, scumbag, *add your favorite slur*.
  • I love my kids. I will always be their daddy even though I might prefer if they called me momma. I will not define for them what box to put me in.
  • In my desire to be compassionate, I sometimes fail to be me choosing your comfort over my own self- expression.
  • The soul that inhabits this body is the same as it ever was—the same as yours.
  • I don’t want your pity. It’s simply a way to call me freak without saying so.
  • Survival is the lowest form of living. After 41 years I intend to do more than survive.
  • Breasts do not equal stupid, emotional, weak, or less than.
  • I remember when you respected my opinions.
  • Withdrawing in fear from our friendship damages both of us.
  • Passing as a woman is really about not having to fear being treated as anything other than a woman.
  • Respect matters.
  • How I feel about my genitals is really none of your business.
  • How I intend to navigate my sexuality as a woman is none of your business.
  • That I’m staying with my wife doesn’t necessarily make her a lesbian.
  • I need to feel touch.
  • No you may not touch my *insert any part of my body* without my expressed consent.
  • I am not a piece of meat .
  • Polite, considerate questions will always be answered.
  • I am no militant. If you use the wrong name or pronoun, correct yourself and move on.
  • Deliberate failure to use my name demonstrates your lack of respect and consideration.
  • I use the bathroom all women use, the women’s. What I do there is hopefully the same thing you do.
  • YouTube is a fantastic resource for anything you want to know.
  • I am a bitch which is code for smart, direct, opinionated and vocal.
  • I am also very sweet, kind and loving.
  • I’m a bit of a girly girl. Women come in a number of different flavors.
  • Just because I haven’t cut you off at the knees doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t.
  • Your insecurities about me are your own. Deal with them accordingly.
  • I support the rights of all people without regard for race, sex, orientation, creed, religion, or orientation.
  • I am responsible.
  • I am accountable.
  • I refuse to listen to you as small or weak.
  • I wear what I want to wear simply because I can.
  • I want to be loved.
  • I want to be trusted.
  • I want to feel attractive.
  • I want to be accepted.
  • I love thoughtful gifts in line with my transition.
  • I love tips on things I could do more effectively.
  • I spend time on how I look for me, not for you.
  • I am just like you and yet, just like me.
  • What I am is not a threat to you or society in any way.
  • On the flipside, my very willingness to transition, to reject the norm and the rules that go with it, calls others into being. Some find that call threatening. I think of it more as an invitation to step up.
  • Love is infinitely easier, more lasting, and more powerful than hate.
  • I always try to answer fear and hate with Love.
  • Humans have their challenges in life and this is just one of mine.
  • My patience is not endless. Please don’t wait till one or the other of us is done breathing.
  • Remember, even if you’re not speaking, it’s all just a conversation.
  • Being great with people is a choice.
  • I want only the best for you and yours.
  • When you transition, you don’t lose your likes and dislikes. You can and may add to both lists.
  • Comparing me to “real” women is insulting and insensitive. For example, “I would think you were a girl if I didn’t know you were born a man.”
  • I did not suffer abuse or neglect as a child.
  • As a child, I hoped, prayed, begged, bargained, and wished nightly to wake up as a girl. As I grew older, I recognized a need to keep up appearances so I began to wish for the ability to be a girl when I wanted to and the ability to change back as needed.
  • I never intended to transition deeming the cost in relationships to be too high.
  • I thought I would never be passable as a woman. I am.
  • I’ve spent several thousand dollars to remove hair from my face and body.
  • I seriously underestimated the kindness of the amazing people in my life.

People have surprised me. You so often read about the horror stories of folks who transition. They often relate how they lost everything or everyone they ever loved or cared about. This has not been my experience. Instead, I’ve been blessed with love and support from nearly everyone in my life. Some have been unwilling or unable to accept and are quietly withdrawing. They are definitely in the minority. I can’t help but want to save every single relationship but I know in my heart that there are no coincidences and that life moves ever forward.

I wish you safe journey fellow travelers. May your paths be clear and full of profound beauty. May you be blessed to feel the sun on your face and the wind at your back as the seeds you have planted grow healthy and strong. Know peace within yourself and listen for it in others. Reach out those who’ve wronged you and forgive them. Try to Love a little more each day. We are one.

Homework Assignment

You’ve just gotten to know someone who is transgender. She’s shared personal details of her life with you in the hopes that it can further your understanding of what it’s like for at least one transgender person out there. Really spend some time reflecting on what you’ve learned. Leave a comment if you’d like to share any thoughts with Rachel.

If you are transgender and would like to be considered for the “This Trans Voice” segment, contact me here.

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14 Comments
  • Tracey

    July 19, 2013 at 12:05 PM Reply

    beautifully said!!!!! thank you for sharing, you are quite amazing!!!

    • Rachel

      July 19, 2013 at 4:04 PM Reply

      Thank you Tracey! It was an honor and a pleasure to contribute.

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      July 20, 2013 at 12:19 AM Reply

      I second that Tracey, and thank you again Rachel for your contribution!

  • transiteration

    July 20, 2013 at 4:27 PM Reply

    It is an interesting point you bring up how people treat us differently as a man or woman even though we’re still the same person. How I was treated when people knew me as female isn’t something I’ll forget as I transition to male.

    • Rachel Seifert

      July 20, 2013 at 4:47 PM Reply

      I’m pleased that you’re committed to remembering! I think It will make you a more compassionate man. Trans folks enjoy a perspective on gender that few CIS folks will ever experience. I think it to be an important part of our evolution as a society. We have the opportunity to expand people’s views on what it means to be male or female, effeminate, butch, girly, tough, manly, etc… The rules of the binary fall apart very quickly when people start to think in these terms. While I am clearly a woman, I have “male” traits as well. In fact, humans indulge in alternate gender roles all the time often without recognizing it.

      • transiteration

        July 20, 2013 at 5:01 PM Reply

        Yeah! There are definitely some traits I’d like to keep too. We did a gender roles test in our psych class one day, and it was funny how surprised people were at their results.

        I’m curious what you think of male “chivalry” for lack of a better word. As I’m beginning to be perceived as male, certain things like opening doors, carrying bags, and giving up a seat on the bus are becoming common courtesy. Sometimes though, I worry that I might inadvertently make a woman feel weak or give the impression that I think women need to be taken care of. Which, from a female perspective would make me feel irritated. I hope I made sense. Do you know what I mean?

        • Rachel Seifert

          July 20, 2013 at 5:24 PM Reply

          I know exactly what you mean! As a woman, I’m present to a number of “rules” that I wasn’t even aware of as a man. I was raised to be a gentleman, holding doors, pulling chairs, etc… But my Mom was also a feminist. She stressed that it was common courtesy to assist others when possible. I find now that I have to consciously choose to let someone get the door for me rather than getting it myself. Sometimes, I’ll get it myself like I always have and sometimes I’ll let the boys do it. It totally depends on how I feel the man is behaving. If he’s smug and arrogant, there’s no way that he gets to do stuff for me. If on the other hand, he’s just being sweet and helpful, I’m more inclined to let him. I find I appreciate this kind of deference. However, I’m cautious in that, the line between common courtesy and misogyny is blurry at best in these situations. I suppose my recommendation is to be attentive and helpful if possible but don’t push it. You know very well that a woman chooses to allow or disallow this sort of behavior. I think it helps when a man is clear that I am more than capable of doing it myself but that I am willing to allow him to help. It comes down to respect.

          I would also point out that women(and men) really do come in a variety of flavors and all of them female(male). You have the butch, the femme, the ultra-femme, the cowgirl, the blue-blood, the tomboy, the bitch, the doormat, the single mom, the housewife, the mother, the grandmother, the lesbian, the transsexual, and many, many more. More than one classification would have to be applied to every woman in order to even attempt to successfully categorize even one, Each of them will have a different view of what’s expected of a man. As I already alluded to, men are in the same boat. It really depends on who you’re dealing with, when, and in what context. If you toss in gender variations on top of that, it gets complicated fast!

          • transiteration

            July 20, 2013 at 7:32 PM

            Wow, thanks for the insight. that helps a lot!

          • Dara Hoffman-Fox

            July 21, 2013 at 4:48 PM

            I loved reading your conversation, thank you for having it and for allowing the rest of us to learn from it as well!

  • SM Johnson

    November 14, 2013 at 7:13 PM Reply

    A) Beautiful essay. Thank you for sharing some of your experience. B) Homework assignment: This was my reality a few months ago – I met someone and we quickly started to become good friends, sharing a lot of personal experiences (dumping lives in laps, so to speak) and I believed this person to be a biological male and had no reason to think otherwise. Then in a moment of (trust? vulnerability?) he told me he was transgendered, and waited for me to react.

    Long story short, I reacted just fine (according to him), and we’ve since had many conversations about his transgender experience. At some point he said, “I feel like we couldn’t be real friends unless you knew this about me.” And the only answer to that I had was to be honored he felt that way.

    I’m supposed to reflect on what I’ve learned – well, I’ve learned that in some areas of the country it is terrifying to be trans, and I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn – and yet – my friend is still the same friend he was before I knew he was trans, and while his transgender “stuff” (for lack of a better term, honestly) is fascinating, the things I liked about him before I knew about that are still the basis for our friendship.

    • Rachel Seifert

      November 14, 2013 at 9:26 PM Reply

      Thank you! Looking back at where I was when I wrote this piece I was remembering how it’s composition took several days. I wanted to take a moment and acknowledge you for being great with your friend, he is lucky to have you in his life! Ultimately, trans folk are just people with the same frailties and strengths as anyone. It seems like you get this in a very natural way. You have no idea how fantastic it is to run into someone like you as a trans person – many of us simply want to be seen as normal people. Thank you for being you!

  • Anastasia lynn

    December 5, 2014 at 9:10 PM Reply

    Wow, this was the best written trwns storry i have ever read. This has inspired me so much

    • Rachel Seifert

      December 7, 2014 at 9:02 PM Reply

      Thank you Anastasia! I love the name btw! I’m pleased to hear that you found my story to be inspirational! I strive each day to be proud of the life I live and the person I’m becoming – it is a daily practice and not one that I necessarily see results from daily however, as the days stack up, as time goes buy, the progress is undeniable and I find that I am increasingly grateful for folks like you that have loved and supported me all along the way. It truly would have been more than I would want to bear on my own!

      ((hugs))

      Rachel

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