This year for Transgender Day of Remembrance I happened to be on a campus in the Midwest and heard Ryan give a short and moving speech about his gender journey. A recent college graduate finding his way in the world, Ryan raised profound questions about identity as he publicly meditated on his path so far. Ryan also beautifully considers how cross-cultural travel has helped him discover himself. For my blog he has given me permission to share his speech with you. It is well worth reading. Thanks to Ryan for being willing to share and for providing the accompanying images.
Transgender Day of Remembrance
I want to start by thanking each of you for coming here tonight; for coming to honor our fallen trans brothers and sisters who were not allowed to live their lives authentically. Or rather, they were not allowed to live, period. As a transgender man myself, I have walked the lonely road of gender transition, but seeing all of you here tonight reminds me that I’m not alone; that transgender people aren’t alone, even though society often tells us that we are so, so very alone. But today and every day, you are society, and you are telling us that our existence is valid and respected. Right now, each of you is forging the way for a better future for transgender people, and maybe one November there won’t have to be a list of names to be read aloud anymore. So, to each of you I say “thank you” for accepting us, supporting us, and sometimes, like tonight, for remembering us.
My transgender story starts during childhood. I was raised as a girl, but I could never shake the feeling that I needed to be a boy. Specifically a gay boy. But how does a 7 year old kid explain that to his parents, or even to himself? The following 15 years of my life were spent in a constant state of muddled unhappiness and irritation because something was wrong and there didn’t seem to be any solution. As far as I knew, little girls didn’t just magically transform into little boys.
Puberty came and went, but the awkwardness never left me. My body had become something to be ashamed of, and I remember feeling obsessively jealous as I watched my male classmates mature into handsome young men, while it seemed like my own body was transforming into that of a monster’s. I felt helpless as biology besieged my body. My biggest obstacle at that time was simply not having access to trans-related information. I didn’t know other people felt the same way or that there was anything to be done about my feelings except to carry around their heavy weight in my heart. Thus, I didn’t start my transition until I was 23 years old.
After graduation from college I spent a year in China, and an incredible thing happened there – people couldn’t tell if I was a boy or girl. For the first time I was able to cross the gender line and get a taste of living as a guy in public, even if just for a moment at a time. It was an amazing feeling to realize that gender transition was suddenly within my grasp. That year abroad was the most difficult year of my life as I came to terms with my gender identity and began imagining a future for myself as a man and all the struggles I might face because of that.
There were so many difficult questions to wrestle with: Who am I, essentially? Is my true self female, which is the way I was born, or is my true self that which I aspire to be? Or put another way, can I create and mold my own identity or was it chosen for me at birth? Is gender transition just running away from my natural self or is it an act of authentic self-realization? The answer I have for these questions today is that my longing to be male is as much of my identity as any other aspect. It’s something that’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and that longing has not gone away in my 25 years of life. I believe that in becoming the person I aspire to be, I am not forsaking my past. I stand here today happier than I have ever been with myself, and it’s because I finally feel at home in my gendered body. My decision to transition came from a place deep within myself, and it’s a real part of my identity. I am the person I am today, and I’m also the man I will be tomorrow. And I suppose in some way I am also the girl I was yesterday, but that doesn’t invalidate the boy I am today.
Now, some transgender people don’t have childhood memories of having been born in the wrong sex; they may develop those feelings later in life during adolescence or even adulthood. Are they still transgender? Absolutely. There is no right or wrong way to be transgender, and there is also no right or wrong way to transition. While some people may decide to pursue hormones or surgery, others may only need to do a social transition, which is where they live as their true gender in society, having people use their preferred name and pronouns. It may also involve changing one’s clothing, hairstyle, or mannerisms. Still other people find that the simple realization that they are transgender is enough for them. There are as many ways to be transgender as there are transgender people, and all of us are equally valid in our identities.
Unfortunately, though, the one thing that still remains a shared experience for most transgender people is discrimination. It seems like there’s always some sort of hurdle to jump over. For me, the biggest difficulty was, and continues to be, my parents. They don’t agree with my transition. They hate it. We don’t talk about it very much anymore, but I see the hurt in their faces and hear it in their voices. Their pain pierces my heart every day. I’ve also faced backstabbing talk at work and friends who have told me I’m going to hell. I’ve been lucky that these are the only bits of discrimination I’ve experienced. Some of my trans brothers and sisters have faced much, much worse treatment. The obstacles are endless:
Sexual and/or physical assault
Obstacles in changing legal documents to reflect a new gender or name
Lack of accessible healthcare
Refused medical treatment
Parental or familial emotional abuse