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 Konner Jebb
Most people in the trans community have heard of the idea of #nottransenough, but we all likely have our own definitions of what it means to us. This is because one trans person’s experience is rarely the same as another’s. While we may share transgender identity, it’s not as though each of us identifies with the standard, “x-gender trapped in a y-gender body,” knowing our true self from a young age and being able to recognize that. We’re also not all white, straight, and able-bodied. Being trans may push up against normative cis media in and of itself, but it’s not as though there is a homogenous and single thing that transgender identity is, or means.
And yet this same, singular story told of us in the media and even by doctors promotes another idea that there is only one way of being transgender. In some places, doctors still assess transgender and questioning patients as to whether they are “trans enough” to go on hormones or other transition necessities that require medical attention. If they are not “trans enough” for the doctor, they can be denied access to any of these transition needs. This is called gatekeeping.
Gatekeeping is now not just a problem when facing doctors, but within our own community. Fights about trans people not experiencing enough dysphoria to be trans, not presenting feminine enough to be trans, or masculine enough to be trans, non-binary enough to be trans; the list goes on. That has led many to worry that if their own diverse transgender experiences are valid.
I think and worry about this a lot with my own unique transgender experience. Despite the transgender community’s support of trans siblings with families who are not accepting, it often seems like the voices most loudly heard are the ones of those who were accepted or are now accepted. Those of us who haven’t been accepted are less visible. Being transgender in a family that doesn’t accept you comes with a lot of different emotions and experiences, all of which have made me feel more alone, more isolated. Quite frankly, I often get the sense I’m made to feel #nottransenough.
I experience more doubt about my trans identity than is #transenough. I’ve effectively been told by my parents time and time again that they know me better than I know myself. Therefore, they imply, how can I possibly be transgender? Since they aren’t able to see my identity, why and how should I be able to be so sure about it? They refuse to use my pronouns and use my birth name. They don’t even bat an eye when my friends use “Konner” or “he” around them. They’ve been ignoring my transness in hopes that it will just fade away. (It’s been five years—and guess what? I’m still trans!) I feel invisible at my old home, and often confused more than anything else. Confusion because, after all, these people are still my parents, right? I’m tempted to rationalize their behavior—they must just be looking out for my best interests. And that kind of thinking sends me into a spiral of doubt: how can my parents possibly be wrong? I know I am transgender. But what if they’re right?
From there, more negativity arises. I feel guilty. I used to love getting gendered correctly, marching proudly into the men’s department, placing “Konner” in the heading of all my college papers, until over time it began to feel like betrayal. Gender dysphoria feels wrong. Yet gender euphoria feels worse. If my parents knew how being transgender made me feel, it would disappoint them. I fight them every day. Sometimes I feel I’ve developed a severe case of internalized transphobia because I’ve internalized my parents’ own transphobia.
I describe this lack of acceptance as a grey area because I often feel stuck. My life is trudging ahead of me and I’m not there to enjoy it. I’m always paranoid. My brain hasn’t slept in five years: Can I trust what I’m feeling? I need to go on T, but what if they’re right and I am making a mistake? Could I be financially and emotionally stable if I transitioned without their permission? Am I ruining my life? The answer is this: now I am 23, living on my own and in graduate school. I’m in a place where they can’t take my undergraduate degree away from me if I went on T, or my ability to support myself if I went on T, nor would I be homeless if I went on T and yet, I still worry. I deeply, sincerely, and painfully know transitioning is the absolute right choice for me. It’s just getting the courage to accept that permission to be myself does not have to be granted, and that parents don’t always know what’s best for you.
What’s most harmful about a parent’s lack of acceptance of their transgender child are the thoughts that hold us back. As a community, I wish we would engage with these experiences more and have a discussion on how we can help anyone else who feels like this. More importantly, I want to hear the voices of trans people who come from unaccepting backgrounds so that we can feel #transenough, too.
Konner Jebb is currently receiving his MFA with hopes of using his poetry and other writings to become an activist for the transgender and LGBT community as a whole. He plans on sharing his transition and experiences on YouTube, blogs and articles so he can contribute to the same community that helped him. For now, you can follow @trainersarecoolest on Instagram and kawnerwithak on Tumblr.
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.
With the most recent announcement that James Charles is the new CoverGirl, modeling is quickly becoming the queerest landscape for the un-queer mainstream.
Of course, it is titillating. And of course, they are doing it for a story. But, the story inside the appropriation is that modeling can be a radical act for those who are gender nonconforming.
In today’s society, the norm is not that we commonly talk about the distinction between individual gender expression and gender stereotypes. If a woman presents in a stereotypically “masculine” way (whether affect or clothing choices), others may say she “seems like a lesbian.”
The first step I took towards self-discovery was coming out as a gay female. When I was able to do that, I felt myself consciously letting go of conventional ideas of how a female should present herself—clothing, hair, makeup, etcetera. It was liberating. I started to change my style and progressively moved towards androgyny—choosing an unconventional way to show my identity gender-wise, incorporating both feminine and masculine elements into my self-presentation.
When I was 16 years old, I thought for sure I was a lesbian, and I came out of the closet.
“I don’t want to werewolf,” I said to my doctor nervously. “Not overnight.” I was at my first appointment about starting hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in the form of testosterone. I was trying to explain that I wanted to take my time. I wasn’t looking to rush toward some cookie cutter version of passable cis maleness. In fact, I couldn’t even really picture what I wanted to look like.
In very recent years, scientists have been doubling down on their efforts to discover the real meaning of human consciousness. Can we excise it or is it merely a reaction? Is it a by-product of our brains, if so, what is it and where is it exactly? Regardless of their efforts, they can’t find it.
Similarly, gender—regardless of whether male, female, both, mixed, varied, other, non-binary—is completely displaced and yet it is here, there and everywhere—as essential to who we are as our consciousness.
Looking back, I can still remember what life was like before this problem started—before I had a chest. Let me explain.
"My opinion is that you'll ruin your career," said my voice professor from university when I came out as transgender to him. "I would reconsider."
5:30AM. My alarm woke me up. While still in the state of not being aware of all my surroundings, I checked all my social media.
Before I decided to get top-surgery, I was miserable. Truly miserable.
Since I came out as trans, and now feel a part of “the trans community,” I have found that there’s a funny paradox about the very idea of a singular community of trans people:
Two weeks ago at a party designed for trans men and cis men to meet and cruise with one another...
Male privilege is no myth. We live in a patriarchal society—male-centric power structures seem to dominate everywhere...
We had just moved to a new town in North Carolina. I was 11 years old. Our new home was a lush, green, country hill town—and for an entire week I lived freely in this new paradise. In fact, I remember our arrival there as a cherished moment in my childhood. Since I was 4 years old, I had been actively fighting with my mom about my boyhood. Her argument of course, was that I was supposed to be having a girlhood.
For most people, sex and intimacy are important aspects of life. As a transgender person embarks on a medical transition, these concepts can appear scary and maybe even impossible to deal with. Some trans-women, previously accustomed to having a testosterone-driven sex life, have to find new ways to get turned on since the estrogen and anti-androgen (Spironolactone) diminish the simplicity of becoming aroused or maintaining an erection prior to surgery. Trans-guys are usually surprised by the drastic increase in arousal with the introduction of testosterone. Regardless of whether or not hormones are involved, feeling an intimate connection is much more complicated when you’re trans!
Everyone’s journey will be different and unique, but one thing I like to do with my clients—especially those who are just beginning their journey—is to call out a few of the common challenges. This can help people feel like they have a roadmap for some questions and feelings to expect. From there, I hope to offer words of wisdom that may help the transition in this definitionally vulnerable area of life feel a little less scary…
1. Getting used to a new body takes time, so be patient.
Recognize your impatience, frustration, or whatever emotions come up around the notion of your transition as a process. Put simply, it will get easier. I have noticed that much of my clients’ discomfort when it comes to sex and intimacy in particular comes from the expectation that things will feel “normal” right away now that they are being honest about their self-expression. In reality, though, I often liken transitioning to puberty…and remember how impetuous and awkward we all felt then?
Adolescents experiencing their own bodies as sexual are usually shocked, frightened or even intrigued by the ways in which their bodies respond to fantasy or actual sexual intimacy. They don’t necessarily know what is going to feel good to them. Eventually, they figure it out and even if it’s less than ideal, it serves a sexual purpose. That’s what makes intimacy so complicated when an adult transitions. Most people, regardless of the level of gender dysphoria, find creative ways (through fantasy, creative partnering or other means) to get their sexual needs met as adults. When you find yourself with a new body, one that functions very differently from the one you’refamiliar with, it’s like beginning puberty all over again. And, getting used to these new sensations is just the beginning.
2. Discussing a new body/bodily sensation with a current or prospective partner can be intense, and that’s OK.
Even though we’re sexually saturated as a culture, this level of vulnerability is unique. If the person who is transitioning is already in a relationship, it can feel challenging to the non-transitioning partner to request that things be done differently. If they are coming out to a new sexual partner, it’s a different, but often equally awkward conversation. For the latter, the transitioning person will end up revealing personal matters that those of us who are cisgender never have to talk about. For example, a pre-operative person’s partner will likely want to know if the partner’s turned on by genital stimulation or if that area is to be avoided. Lots of trans folks come up with creative ways to get turned on that have nothing to do with genitals.
3. “Role play” often takes on a new meaning. Explore!
Some people in the midst of transition also enjoy role-playing to “try on” their new gender role and identity. This can be an incredibly fun, creative and empowering way for people to explore what kinds of dynamics they find appealing now that they are in a different place with regard to their gender expression. Note that this also warrants a conversation with regard to how much to divulge and when to do so—so establishing norms about communication at the beginning of sexual play may be a good idea.
Unfortunately, I have found that many people who are transitioning believe that they should just appreciate anyone who wants to be sexual with them. I often say that the dating pool shrinks when you’re trans, but the good news is, you’re left with the keepers. People who are willing to engage you in an honest conversation about intimacy and see you for your authentic self are the ones we all should be looking for!
Transitioning has affected how I interact with my body in more ways than I thought possible. It may sound funny, but essential bodily functions like peeing have taken on symbolic significance since I came out as a transgender man at age 16.
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!