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.
When I heard the rumor that the new Secret ad featured a trans woman, I thought perhaps Secret will be crafting a full campaign, hire a bunch of trans women at a wage where they can thrive in this (violent) economy and donate to trans-led organizations. I thought perhaps Secret would have a commercial that featured the music of transgender non-conforming people of color, as well as feature multiple trans actors.
On Monday, October 24, 2016, an 18-year-old transgender girl said she experienced a feeling of "nothing but love and support" when her North Carolina high school announced that she was homecoming queen. Selena Milian had recently won the popular vote for the school award at Overhills High School in Spring Lake, NC the previous week—on Friday, October 21st.
It’s believed that Selena, who is also Native American, is the first transgender homecoming queen to be crowned in the state of North Carolina.
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.
Last week, The New Yorker ran a cover portraying Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as a beauty pageant queen walking the runway, wearing a tight leotard and heels, mascara streaming down his flushed cheeks, a hand raised to the tiara perched on his exaggeratedly long hair.
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.”
Twenty-four years ago, in 1992, my son, Harry, told me, “Inside my head I’m a girl.” He was two years old. I had no idea what that meant. I felt disoriented even trying to process it. The internet was no help, because there was no internet. Books didn’t exist on how to raise children who didn’t fit neatly inside a box that was either pink or blue. And terms like transgender, gender nonconforming, and gender fluid were rare or nonexistent.
We’re trying something new here at trans.cafe: a regular column in which we ask trans-identified individuals to reflect on the five most memorable days of their transition.
My conflict came from my innate need to do the things that genetic girls or women get to do. I was transgender.
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!
trans.cafe is excited to announce the existence of our monthly advice column ASK MONICA.
One of the first things I like to emphasize to any client is that personalizing one’s space is a gender-neutral endeavor. Many people get hung up on the idea of having a “feminine style” versus a “masculine style”—yet I also know many cis women with stereotypically “masculine” vibes in their homes, or cis men who prefer a more traditionally “feminine” look.
It’s totally natural for people to want to incorporate certain reflections of their identity in their personal space—and for many people, gender identity plays a huge role in self-expression. Though of course, there’s no universal rule for what the correlation is, or should be, between gender identity and aesthetic style. Personal space is, at its core, personal.
That said, I understand that tapping into personal style can be easier said than done—especially during a periods of transformation (of any kind, really). That’s why before I launch into specific tips about how to reclaim your space, I want to address a few misconceptions…
Just because you’re transitioning doesn’t mean your style is going to change.
The things you surround yourself with should feel authentic. If you’re MTF and you still want to surround yourself with sports memorabilia and other hegemonically “masculine” things, go for it! You may find yourself feeling a certain pressure to feminize or masculinize your space—but the only right answer is what feels right to you.
Changing your color scheme may not be your first priority.
Going with things that are comfortable for you is the best piece of advice for anyone revamping their space. If blue is your favorite color and you find that there’s not enough blue around in your home—definitely incorporate more of it, regardless of your gender. The idea of blue-versus-pink as the man-versus-woman distinction is a reductive construction form the Victorian age. It’s 2016…and we’ve learned a lot.
The person you want to become is not the person you are now—so be present.
Decorating is a process of being in the present, and of reflecting who you are in the moment. If you are MTF and are noticing a desire for a little more softness in your space, maybe you choose a softer fabric for your sofa throw pillows. Maybe you change the pattern on your bedding from one of geometric shapes to softer lines. Change is a process, so don’t try to force anything.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I want to share some of go-to tips for redecorating during your transition, or really for anyone going through a big change in life.
I strongly believe that revamping your surroundings can bring in the sense of a new fresh era—and I’ve seen it prove to be incredibly empowering for many clients who are transitioning. Here is my X-step plan for bringing in some fresh vibes…
1. Recognize that the past is still part of you.
This first step is more of a mental preparation than an actionable tip. But it’s an essential step in the process—and influences the subsequent steps in the process...
The one thing I always remind all of my clients is that our past is our past, and it’s never going to go anywhere. Trying to complete erase the past can prove to be quite anxiety producing and often makes people feel like they’re trying to erase themselves.
2. Go through your possessions, assess how they make you feel, and devise a reasonable plan of action.
I’ll begin here by telling a personal story. Recently, I went through a bad breakup, and found myself feeling pretty uneasy when digging through wedding photos. I thought, “Maybe I should throw these photos away.” The photos showed me an array of good memories, and yet all I could feel were the bad memories that happened afterward so I felt like I wanted to get rid of them. Fortunately, my current partner advised me to recognize that I didn’t like how I felt with them in my space, but to simply box them up and then revisit them later.
When you’re starting a new chapter, you may want to make some room for new memories, which may involve re-evaluating the things around that make you think of old memories. For most people, going through pictures is a big part of the process.
If you’re transitioning for instance, you may find you want to replace pictures of yourself with newer pictures, or newer pictures of friends if dealing with your own image feels too tough. In both these cases, you’re not trying to erase the past, but simply moving forward in your new life
Finally, when I say to “devise a reasonable plan,” I mean to underscore that sometimes feelings can make you want to act rashly. Because remember: you can always put things in storage.
3. Ask yourself, “How do I like to live?”
OK, I know this sounds like an awfully big and general question, but here’s what I mean…While I’d be happy living in a squeaky-clean glass box, other people I know feel safe and comfortable surrounded by knick-knacks and old mementos. So figure out what your style is. Here are a few guiding questions to help you:
*Do you like to entertain?
*Do you prefer alone time to social time?
*Do you like being stimulated in your space?
*Do you want to prioritize feeling blissful and serene?
Really look at how you live, and see how it maps onto how you want to live. Maybe you’ve always been someone who loves alone time, but you want to entertain more. Take account of that! We can will into existence the life we want to live by the way we surround ourselves with things.
4. Don’t underestimate the power of your favorite things.
It may sound cheesy, but it’s really important to surround yourself with things that make you happy. So to begin, get curious about the kinds of activities, colors, smells, and so on that make you happy. Are you happy when reading books? Or watching sports? Or riding your bike? Find a way to incorporate elements of your “favorite things” into your life. Maybe you decide to display books in a corner of your living room. Whatever it is that makes you happy, let it be a part of your space.
5. Consider your wardrobe, and how it might be able to influence your home.
Color always affects people—and yet many people claim to be “afraid” of color when it comes to decorating. I find it fascinating that I’ve met so many clients whose wardrobes are filled with bright colors, yet who claim to only want white walls and beige couches. That’s why I always ask clients to look at their wardrobes as inspiration for their space
For people who are transitioning, they are often experimenting with new ways to dress—so this question can be a bit tricky. Regardless, though, I find that there is always some style or color or pattern we subconsciously gravitate to. So spend a little time with things you like—your favorite sweater, blanket, cologne, make-up kit, or whatever it is that makes you feel the best among your possessions—and find a way to incorporate an aspect of it into your space.
Above all, there is no correct answer to the question of how to revamp your space or your general style during your transition. But one thing is for sure: bringing in a few elements of newness is a powerful way to introduce some fresh vibes.