Trans Empowerment III: A Possible Life

My final obstacle, which I am gradually working through, consists of all my fears and insecurities about how others might perceive my transition. When I first came out as trans to my queer community, my biggest fear was that long-time friends, who were either trans-positive or themselves trans, would not believe me.  That they would think, “No, not you. We know what trans is. We’ve known you for years, and you are not trans,” even if they didn’t say it out loud. It has taken a lot of validation — my best friend saying, “I already think of you as male,” my lover asking, “So why don’t you use male pronouns anyhow?” my other lover taking it upon herself to use male pronouns before I even told her that that was what I wanted, my other lover texting me, “I had a feeling,” when I told him the news, a friend saying that she had seen this coming on the horizon, a mentor saying that I was “obviously trans” and that this must have been a “natural evolution” of my identity, and a few strangers asking me what gender pronoun I preferred — to overcome this irrational fear that other queers would not be able to see me as trans.

My final frontier of this fear, as I outlined in this post, is that being trans (particularly pre-transition) will be impossible in the broader non-queer world, including the world of academia. I think my major problem here is that I have a very poor idea of what straight people see when they see me, and what they think when they see me go into a men’s restroom or hear someone refer to me with male pronouns. My preconception is that they will be unable to see me as anything other than female and have a difficult time calling me anything other than “she”. But I think I may be wrong about straight people. I am becoming aware that, in gender-binary straight world, I am definitely treated more like a guy than a girl. When I told my friend that I didn’t really know what people saw when they saw me, she confidently stated, “A boy. They see a boy.” Whether or not I pass as a conventional guy, I do tend to be seen and treated like a guy-like being. I am beginning to hope that, due to this, even without physical transition, after being given the appropriate guidelines, people just meeting me will not have a difficult time seeing me as as a guy and calling me “he.” (A question for my trans readers: pre-physical transition, what are your experiences being able to be seen and called by your gender of choice by straight people, gays, lesbians, and queers?)

I feel much more confident and empowered on this front after talking to a mentor who not only was completely unsurprised by my confession (see her comments above), but who seemed confident that I could go into my new workplace and immediately exert control over my colleagues’ perceptions of me, becoming seamlessly accepted in my workplace and known in academia as a guy and as a “he” within two years, regardless of physical transition. Her advice was to enter into the situation with confidence, speak to the chair of my department, matter-of-factly, without feminine-coded apologies or unnecessary personal disclosures, inform her of the situation, and enlist her help in explaining matters to the rest of the faculty and staff. A lot of this, I think, is going to be about claiming a “male” sense of entitlement. Apologies, explanations, and visible insecurities are going to work against me by reading as “feminine.” Also, any sense of fear, shame, or insecurity is going to have a ripple-effect, making colleagues feel fearful, uncomfortable, and unsure of how this is going to work. Assuming that they have no experience with trans people and no sense of how it will work, it is going to be my job to reassure them by projecting confidence, entitlement, and command of the situation. As my mentor pointed out, this may mean both speeding up my own process and projecting a sense of completion that doesn’t actually reflect where I’m at. This is fine. I need to come on strong in order to lay the groundwork for a comfortable workplace environment in which I will unproblematically be seen as a guy and referred to as “he.” I am cocky and a good performer, so I can do this. As my mentor suggested, I may need to wear a tie to work every single day and unhesitatingly use the men’s restroom in order to confidently and seamlessly project “maleness” to my students and colleagues, even if, at this point, I actually feel more comfortable using the women’s room.

My mentor’s confidence that I could make my colleagues see and treat me as male, even without physical transition, and her concrete guidelines for how to do this have given me a new sense of hope and empowerment. If she thinks I can do this, then she must find my maleness compelling and believe that others will do so as well. And the opportunity to begin afresh as a “he” with people who have few preconceptions about my gender and my history is truly a precious one.

I really want to believe that this can work, but I worry that getting wrong pronouns, weird looks, and inappropriate questions in a job where I already feel stressed about fitting into my new role as faculty is going to be extremely hard on me. Physically transitioning, however, may resolve these issues for good.

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