The past few years have seen an exponential rise in the visibility of transgender people, particularly in popular media. Many such representations have done the work of showing transgender people in a positive (or at least neutral) light, taking down some of the stereotypes about us that have prevailed for decades.
By Nyra Wekwete
Trans Day of Remembrance is upon us (November 20), and we as the trans community sure have come a long way—but still have far to go. Being trans, black and an immigrant in 2016 has its own set of unique challenges. Different from those behind us. In my trans experience, I’ve learnt many things but these are at the top.
1. Non-binary identities exist, and there is no such thing as “trans enough”.
Transgender is an umbrella term used to refer to all people who do not identify with their assigned gender/sex at birth, or the binary gender system.
Non-binary describes folks who choose to identify themselves as such when their gender identity does not fit within the gender binary.
Trans-ness comes in all shapes and sizes, in different variations crossing multiple lines and just as the entire sexuality spectrum is fluid so is being trans. There is no specific point where you are deemed worthy enough to fly the trans flag. If you are trans, and identify with that term, then you will know it. It’s something you will always be no matter what critiques or policing others may try to impart on your identity from the outside.
2. You don’t have to transition to be trans.
For a long time, trans women who have undergone MTF transitions have been the poster girls for all trans people. This is understandable as many of those women have had it the hardest, but this image has also allowed us to think that the only way to be a “true” trans person is to “fully transition” and that is not the case.
Transitioning is a privilege experienced by people with the resources necessary to pursue transitioning, and more often than not, they are surrounded by people who understand and are willing to listen. These folks are, by and large, safe and tend also to have the ability to move to a new place where no one knows who they used to be. Transitioning is a process that is only available to very few and I myself know many trans folks who can’t transition for a whole slew of reasons…
So let me ask you: does that make them less trans? Because they can’t afford the hormones, medical care, clothing or other resources? Because it isn’t safe to? See my point?
3. POC folks are already outsiders...
Without even telling the world I am trans, I am black, followed by the fact that I am a (perceived) woman and an immigrant. Already the odds are not stacked in my favor. The sad truth is that white queers are treated a million times better than their PoC counterparts. I am surrounded by white supremacy, hoteps and misogyny, all of which are trying very hard to break me (as a black woman), to eradicate me from the world, and make me “know my place.” Add in being an immigrant and we reach a new level and in addition to racism, xenophobia kicks in. Mix that in with being queer and we have a lifetime of hell.
Growing up, I have gotten used to how the world sees and treats me and it has made me resilient. Being raised in countries far from home has taught me how the real world treats little black children, especially girls who are far from their people, far from home. I grew up thinking I was wrong, I was broken, that the skin I was in was a curse, that I was less than human, that I was a savage from Africa…
This went on for many years and it took many years to unlearn it all. But through it, I did learn one thing: being different doesn’t make you wrong it just makes you different. Your self worth is not defined by what others think and say about you. The only opinion that matters is your own. Being a minority helped me in being trans, as I was already accustomed to rude remarks and hate speech. Suffering gracefully had become second nature.
4. Pronouns matter. (AKA: #Pronounsmatter)
This cannot be stressed enough. I have always said that misgendering someone by mistake is fine (it happens) but continuing to use incorrect pronouns is an act of violence and is transphobic. There is no excuse under the sun that excuses you from using the wrong pronouns. None. No, not even the one you are thinking of now.
No matter what you think or how you feel if someone tells you their pronouns, you respect them, use them, and correct the next person using the wrong ones too.
That said, a note for all my trans people: don’t be afraid to enforce your pronouns. Don’t let people erase how you feel. Feel free to get mad at people who don’t listen and cut off those who don’t comply. It’s your right to be addressed how you want to be; the same way no one would stand to be called the wrong name their whole life, you should never stand to be misgendered
5. We (you) don’t HAVE to explain anything to anyone.
Believe it or not my story is no ones business but my own which I can choose to share or not to. Many people harass transgender people with 101 questions that most of us don’t want to answer. Constantly have to deal with ignorant people asking the most personal and invasive questions gets old really quickly and I soon learned that it is not my job to educate anyone on being trans. For many trans people this has been a hard and heavy road and not something we want to have to relive by talking about it. You do not have to tell anyone anything if you don’t want to. You don’t have to explain your choices to anybody. You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. If people can’t accept you without you having to prove yourself then they don’t deserve you anyways.
6. Intersectional trans experiences are valid.
As a queer black trans person who is perceived as a straight cisgender black women, my trans experience has collided head on with many different aspects of my life and as a result my trans experience has been different from the rest. Being trans is not an isolated event in one’s life and cannot be treated as such there are many things that shape and define it. Just because one experience doesn’t reflect your own or one that you know of doesn’t make it invalid. There is not a single trans person who has not suffered in some way at the hands of society and we must all be sensitive to the pain that has been endured. Everyone’s story is different and every story is valid.
7. It gets better—but it’s nowhere near perfect yet.
I know it often doesn’t feel like it doesn’t but the world is slowing getting better and like I like to say “The Revolution is coming”. This is a time of change all around the world we can clearly see that things are moving more drastically than ever and the same goes for the trans community. More and more people are coming out every day. Trans brothers and sisters holding their own and providing hope for those of us who are lost. Stay strong but remember it’s ok to fall, have faith in yourself, surround yourself with people who really love you and learn that it’s ok to cut people off (even your own blood). This life of yours is precious. Don’t let anyone take that from you.
Nyra is a 22 year-old transmasculine science student and writer from Johannesburg, South Africa.
By MJ Eckhouse
My interest in drugs began at age 11. My classmates had begun tormenting me for my masculine appearance, and I was terrified of impending puberty. So when an older kid offered me weed, I jumped at the chance for some escape.
Over the next ten years, I watched myself do literally whatever it took for another hit of meth or crack cocaine. By then, I had already come out as trans, but that wasn’t enough to motivate me to stop using. It wasn’t enough being hospitalized, or threatened with jail time. Finally, after an experience getting high with the only other trans person I knew, I finally became ready to quit. There I was, still feeling paranoid and alone, despite the company of someone who actually understood me. It was time.
While considering treatment, I ran into a problem: Inpatient rehabs are segregated by gender—restrooms, locker rooms, and even activities. I knew these programs probably wouldn’t be the safest places to be trans. Though I found “LGBT-friendly” rehabs over the course of my research, I felt skeptical that the “T” was anything more than an afterthought.
Ultimately, I didn’t go to rehab. Fortunately, I haven’t used drugs or alcohol since 2013. Instead of inpatient treatment, I decided to try 12-step meetings. As a queer agnostic, the “God” language concerned me at the get-go, but now that it’s been more than three years, I can say confidently that it hasn’t been a problem. Belief in a monotheistic religion hasn’t been a requirement for support from the 12-step groups, and I’m still as queer and agnostic as ever.
A First Step: Do I Have A Problem?
Studies show that trans people are more likely to use substances. And in a way, substance use seems built into queer culture. Most cities have several gay bars, but rarely have LGBT homeless shelters. Queer sex and drug use have intertwined for decades. Many trans folks end up doing sex work as a response to discrimination, and that might include drug use. With substance use so prevalently positioned in the community, it can be hard to determine if you have a problem with substances, or if it’s just habit. If you think you might have a problem, or if the question seems worth exploring, here are some questions you can consider as a starting point:
- Do you frequently think about drugs/alcohol?
- Does your use of drugs/alcohol interfere with work, school or relationships?
- Do you use/drink alone?
- Have you ever stolen or had sex to obtain drugs/alcohol?
- Do you use/drink to change how you feel or escape reality?
- Has your using/drinking gotten progressively harder to control?
- Do you still use/drink despite legal, financial or other consequences?
Before I quit, I would have answered “yes” to all those questions—that is, if I answered honestly. For years, my friends, family and therapists told me I had a drug problem, but I denied it, always finding a way to rationalize my way out of coming to terms with it. “I’ll stop eventually,” “I still have a job,” “l’ll just get another job,” “I don’t shoot up, so it’s not a big deal”—the list goes on and on. Fact is, I put drug use first. I didn’t need to live under a bridge and share needles to have a problem.
What Might Be Next: An Overview of Treatment Options
Residential treatment centers are a well-known method of addiction recovery. However, they pose some drawbacks for trans people. Plus, the costs of private facilities can be prohibitive. But if you’re still deciding, it may help to consider the “pros” and “cons.”
There is one trans-exclusive rehab in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, it has only eight beds and only welcomes Philadelphia residents.
Advantages of Inpatient Treatment:
- Takes you away from your environment, dealers and drinking/using buddies.
- Provides structure and routine to your daily activities.
- Constant access to support.
- May include medically-supervised detox.
Outpatient treatment also provides structure and guidance for staying sober but on a part-time basis. Instead of living in a facility, people attend individual and group counseling. This allows time for work or school and might relieve some of the problems trans people face in gender-segregated rehabs.
Many areas have state-funded inpatient and outpatient programs, which can help with the cost.
Due to medical gatekeeping, trans people are often familiar with therapy. Over the years, I’ve seen several therapists. Unfortunately, most of them didn’t know how to help me with transition or addiction. However, some are knowledgeable, and often, finding the right therapist comes down to just finding the right fit. Therapy is worth considering—it may just take patience, and a willingness on your part to ask around for references for therapist who have experience working with trans people and/or substance users.
If there is an LGBT clinic or community near you, it’s worthwhile to ask other trans people for suggestions. “Find A Therapist” sites list therapists who describe themselves as “LGBT-friendly,” which may be better than not.
I maintain my recovery with a 12-step program. The “God stuff” in the 12 steps worried me, but the people are far more accepting and open-minded than I expected. At meetings, I speak openly about being trans and I’ve never encountered hostility.
12-step meetings are:
- Widely accessible.
- Sometimes designated as LGBT-friendly or for agnostics/atheists.
- Based on suggesting abstinence from all substances.
Other Peer Support
These nonprofit programs,
- Don’t use religious language like “God” or “Higher Power.”
- May or may not emphasize complete abstinence from all substances.
- Have fewer in-person meetings.
Recovery coaching is a professional form of supportive mentorship, usually with a coach who has personal experience with addiction recovery. Through early recovery, I spoke with a California-based recovery coach over the phone. A new practice, recovery coaching is growing in coastal states. This may benefit trans people, since many of these states are strong champions of trans rights.
Along the Way: Consider Harm Reduction
Two years ago, a close friend of mine died of a heroin overdose. Naloxone is a medicine for harm reduction, which immediately reverses the effects of opiate overdose. Other harm reduction strategies include,
- Safe injection sites
- Hiding your keys or giving them to someone if you might drink and drive
- Needle exchanges
- Opioid replacement treatments (Suboxone, Methadone)
Bottom Line: Know You’re Not Alone
Society misunderstands trans people as well as people with addictions. So, as a trans addict, it’s easy to feel isolated. I can’t say it’s easy to find community, because it’s not, but it’s also not hopeless. In early recovery, I told people I was trans, expecting them to reject me.
MJ Eckhouse is an activist, writer and student of political science. Though he's still in Ohio, MJ dreams of someday being able to afford San Francisco's cost of living. Contrary to popular belief, MJ regularly uses public restrooms without attacking anyone or provoking societal downfall. He's also the editor-in-chief of Kent State's LGBTQ magazine, Fusion.
“How are you going to handle seeing your parents over the holidays?” she asked.
My breath catches in my throat, my stomach drops. I close my eyes, and I exhale slowly. It’s something I have been avoiding thinking about.
By Persephone Smith
“This is a day when we remember those who were taken from us this past year.”
“Let’s take a moment of silence to remember those who have passed.”
“Tonight we remember those who were taken away from us this past year.”
“Let us recite the names of those who have passed on this previous year.”
These four lines are burned into my memory. One line for each year I have been out as transgender. Four years of me living out and proud to be the person I am. Every November 20th is a reminder that I do not live a lie anymore. And each year in the days that follow November 20th (Trans Day of Remembrance), I always feel invisible and silenced by its weight. Transgender Day of Remembrance has held a space in my memory and soul, reminding me and others of those of us who have fallen.
But from the time I became aware of this day I, like many of us, forget what it is about.
So let me remind us again.
Trans Day of Remembrance started as a web project in 1998 called “Remembering Our Dead” in response to the murder of Rita Hester, a transgender woman, who was found murdered in her apartment in Allston, Massachusetts on November 28, 1998. This led to Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a trans woman, activist, columnist and graphic designer, to found Transgender Day of Remembrance in 1999.
I am not here to give a history lesson. I am here because I have a chance to voice my anger, opinions and sadness. This is my chance to have a voice and not be silenced. If my words make you feel attacked or chastised in any way, then perhaps this is a chance for you to look deep within yourself and re-examine why that is. Perhaps I am chastising you for some of the choices that are made in the name of this day.
What I am here to talk about today is those who are being remembered. Let us not overlook them as we are attempting to remember them.
I want to say something about statistics and the various places that we all find the numbers. Knowing these numbers does not express the problems we are facing. Because the problem is more insidious than we want to believe. It is not just that we are being erased and silenced. It is more about the question of “Who?”—by whom are we being erased and silenced? And in what ways other than murder are we being silenced and erased that then lead to murder? Is it by those who proclaim they are helping us? Is this at all possible?
So who is it that we are remembering? To me, it seems that we are only remembering the people that organize these events. We memorialize the people who use hashtags to demonstrate their anger. We idolize the allies that dress up their Facebook avatar with whatever filter of the day is on tap. This day is not about remembering those who were killed. It seems to have become about selfish pride, social capital and shameless plugs. Has it been effectively co-opted?
I want to know how we got to this point. How did we get to this place where people’s reputations are built on the graves of the oppressed? Oh wait, it has always been this way. And it will continue to be this way until we do something about it. In the microcosm that is the LGBT community, I have seen calls for our dismissal. We, who have kick-started this movement of fighting for respect and equality. To this day, we are still the ones who are the oppressed and marginalized. Still there are those we have fought alongside for so long that want to throw us under the metaphorical bus.
In these times, Trans Day of Remembrance is not just about mourning those who have been taken away from us. To me, November 20th and all of the days before and after are to remember us all. Because to so many we are already dead and forgotten even as we exist in the here and now. This needs to change.
We are as dead as the many personal friends that I have lost to suicide over the last four years. We are as forgotten as the uncounted number of trans people who have died worldwide who have gone unreported. We are as erased as those who fear coming out and realizing their true self due to the uncertain fate of this country from the impending Trump presidency.
I would like to see us reclaim Trans Day of Remembrance in a new and different way. Bring it back to the people it was meant for. It is not for cis folks, gays and lesbians or allies to score cookies with us. It is by us and for us, the trans people who are continually disregarded and often even derided as being divisive. I want to see our flag held high by trans people every day of the year. I want to see trans people bolster the voices of trans people of color and let us kick-start this movement again. I believe every day should be Trans Day of Remembrance.
Persephone Sarah Jane Smith is a non-binary trans femme of color. She is a writer, poet, musician and programmer turned activist. She is a resident of Northampton, Massachusetts.
Within mainstream media, childhood and adolescence are typically depicted as “magical.” As a kid, I was probably my most anxious, self-doubting and socially-neurotic self. I felt estranged from my body, and mistrusting of my friendships. And all of this was as a cisgender, white, pretty privileged kid. What I mean to say is this: growing up is—or can be—hard.
Dating is the worst. Part of me is tempted to say this is universal—that everyone kind of hates it. But maybe not. In any case, dating has sucked for me.
Two weeks ago at a party designed for trans men and cis men to meet and cruise with one another...
As many of you know, and as many of you do not know, I don’t go by Nathan anymore. My full name is Natalie Jane Egan and today is kind of a big day.
Besides coming out “online” as Natalie and now being openly transgender on the Internet, I am also announcing my new company: trans.cafe (more on the biz in a bit).
I realize many of you know me for different reasons. Some of you are my brothers and sisters; others are friends, professional colleagues, or acquaintances at some level and for some reason. If you’re getting this message, chances are we somehow know each other, or know friends in common, and I want to thank you in advance for your support. And, if I don’t know you at all, I hope my message helps you or someone you know find their true identity.
So yeah, I am transgender. Oddly enough, I really didn’t even know this until pretty recently. But before you jump to any conclusions, let me answer some commonly asked questions, and address some reactions I anticipate:
What does being transgender mean? To me, being transgender is a matter of my identity. Despite the fact that I was biologically born a boy named Nathan, my gender identity, the way I want to express myself, is female. This has been a profoundly personal realization for me and shouldn’t matter to anyone. I want to live my life as me—not as the person society wants me to be. Don’t we all deserve that right? I am not hurting anyone. If anything, I am setting people free. If you have a problem with me being “me,” you should really think about why that is the case.
“But Nathan was so manly!” Well... sort-of. You’re right that my outward appearance was “manly.” You may remember me as a rather large, hairy, OCD / hyper-controlling alpha-male that at times could be quite uncouth. But if you really knew me, you knew that inside I was a very nurturing, sensitive, open, and colorful person that loves shopping and art and flowers and doing “feminine” things like going to the spa. I also always wished I was pretty and that I could be a mom. If you are confused, imagine how I felt! Until recently, I never even knew I had a choice to express my true self, nor did I realize anyone else felt similarly to me… I’m grateful that I do now, so I am going to live the rest of my life like it is the only one I have got!
So, how do I identify? To be clear, I identify completely as a woman. Genetically, I was not born as a woman and yet I have the right to identify as one. Please use the pronouns “she and her” with me. I also don’t mind words like babe, girl, girlfriend, sister, and woman as long as you have a little class in your delivery.
What bathroom am I using? When I look like I do in the middle picture above (which, for now, is still about 80% of the time), I simply try and avoid using public bathrooms. It really sucks. But the good news is that I am making great progress with my transition, and eventually I will look much more like the Natalie on the right! Hopefully, by the time that happens (about 12-18 months), this whole bathroom debate will be over and no one else, no matter how they identify or what they look like, will have to suffer from not peeing.
How could I not know I was transgender? The truth is I always knew I was “different.” But I didn’t yet have the vocabulary to pinpoint why exactly. I didn’t know why I wanted to be pretty or why I was drawn to the color pink when I was younger. I just did. And no one readily used the word “transgender” when I was growing up—and don’t forget, there was no internet. So I felt totally alone, which left me feeling alienated and unsure of what was “wrong” with me. It was only about 9 months ago that I finally accepted that I was transgender and not just a “crossdresser” (although that took a very long time for me to accept, too).
Do I think I was born in the wrong body? No! But I definitely went through a phase where I thought that was the case. I now truly believe that I was born in the right body and all of this was meant to happen. I was meant to meet Nancy and make our kids. I was meant to start trans.cafe and you were meant to read this. Together we will change the world.
What about my kids? Van, Brook, and Teddy are all fine! Seriously. If they were older, it would be harder for them to process for sure. This a transition for them too. But they are all at a good age for acceptance, and as a family we love each other totally unconditionally. So while all of this isn’t easy, what my kids “get” is a happier more loving parent who is more present and connected than ever before. That is all that matters.
What about Nancy? This has been really hard for everyone, especially Nancy. And through it all, she has been unbelievably supportive of me and the kids and I love her so much for it. We are deeply committed to helping one another live happy and healthy lives, but again, that doesn’t make this easy. The bottom line is that we have a foundation of mutual respect, love and support. Every day, we look forward to helping each other be the best versions of ourselves, and to being great co-moms for our kids.
What happened with PeopleLinx? As many of you know, PeopleLinx is the software company I started in my basement in 2008. As CEO for six years, we put more than $8M to work in the US economy, and created 35+ full-time jobs in Philadelphia. In mid-2015, I voluntarily resigned for personal reasons (which may be clearer to you now - haha), and today the team is being led by my good friend and our former Chief Operating Officer, Kevin O’Nell. So to answer the question, PeopleLinx is doing great and I am still an active member of the Board of Directors.
Where am I in my transition and how far will I go? Let me start with a friendly reminder that this is not really an appropriate question to ask a trans person, especially if you don’t know them well. Everyone expresses their gender identity differently, and is a matter so personal it just isn’t other people’s business. That said, I don’t mind sharing. I have started hormones, which is amazing, and is connecting me with my body and humanity and the earth in ways I never knew possible (BTW: I love to talk about the hormones part, so always happy to chat about that one). I am also currently doing hair removal procedures, which are super painful but I love the way they make me feel afterwards. Other than that, I am taking all of this very slowly and my only basic expectation is to feel a sense of progress towards being my real self.
Am I happy? Healthy? OMG yes! In fact, I am both the happiest and the healthiest I’ve ever been. I have lost 40+ lbs in the last nine months, simply by becoming more mindful of what I put in my body (regular exercise helped too). I also quit smoking cigarettes completely (I was smoking a full-pack-per-day!), and cut my drinking and any other unhealthy activities by at least 80%. I am also no longer dealing with depression, or the suicidal thoughts that plagued me over the last year. Those dark days were especially hard as I lived in fear of being outed or blackmailed and ultimately rejected by society because someone “knew” I like to do things that women do (which is totally ridiculous now in retrospect). Today, I have a ton of energy, am super focused, and I know I am making a real difference in the world. I also know that I am a great parent for these kids. What else could I ask for? Well sure, there are a lot of other things I want, but you get my point.
So what is my new business? trans.cafe is an information hub for both consumer and institutional audiences related to a broad range of transgender issues. I started trans.cafe because I myself really struggled to find good, up-to-date information about being transgender. It was even harder for my friends and family, all of whom immediately Googled the word “transgender” when I first said it, and still felt in the dark about the nuances of what I was going through. Furthermore, I found corporations have no tools, language, or metrics to handle the growing number of both employees and customers that identify as transgender. That fact is that everyone deserves access to current, high quality information about trans issues and that is what we are doing. Our vision is to change the way the world thinks about identity and being who you want to be.
*Please note, I don’t claim to be an expert on being transgender or plan on being the authoritative voice of transgender people. That’s an impossible feat, as there’s no such thing as a homogenous “transgender community.” I am, however, an expert in building digital platforms and connecting communities so they can share their experiences and self-identify with what matters to them.
So what else? What can you expect? To be honest, I don’t know really know. I am learning more and more about myself and my transition everyday and it is super exciting. Please know that you will probably keep seeing subtle changes in me and I will try and keep you in the loop on important matters. Most importantly, know that I am working really hard to support my family as best I can.
How can you help? All I really need is your love and support and ask that you respect my right to identify with who it is I really am. My family needs your support too. It means so much to me and to them to know you care, please show you do by sharing this article with your friends and loved ones! It would also be super helpful if could spread the word about trans.cafe as a resource for consumers and corporations on trans related issues.
In closing, remember this: being transgender is about more than gender. It is about identifying with who you want to be—not who others want or expect you to be. If you want to change your life: DO IT!
Big love to all of you. Thank you again for your support. There is so much more to come!
PS: Please remember to call me Natalie (or Nat, or even Natty) if / when you respond or comment. Also, please also use the pronouns she / her and try to avoid declarations like DUDE and bro! If you make a mistake that is fine but just keep trying. You will get it!
* Note - we intentionally keep comments “off” for trans.cafe because of the broad range of readers (from kids to parents to corporate professionals) and encourage you to continue an authentic conversation on your social media networks. You can also reach out to me or the company directly if you want to chat!