I walked into the activist meeting feeling good. I had on my short shorts over tights and my makeup was good. I took my seat next to a stranger, a transwoman.
“Are you in transition?” she asked me. Like, within thirty seconds. I genuinely think this was the first thing she said to me after maybe telling me her name.
“Well, I, uh…” I stammered.
“Have you started hormones yet?”
I stammered some more.
I get it. She was new to the group and excited to see another transfeminine face in the crowd. But goddam is that some personal shit to ask a girl within a minute of meeting her.
I didn’t really answer her in the moment, but let me answer her first question more concretely now: I am “in transition” in the same way that I used to be a baby and one day I’ll be dead.
I am “in transition” in the same way that I used to be a baby and one day I’ll be dead.
Until I got asked questions that assumed I’m not yet where I ought to be, I’d been feeling good about how I looked as I was, right then. I didn’t need to look more like a ciswoman. Who cares about a little bit of beard shadow? Until I save up what I need to get it lasered off, it helps define my jawline and compliments dark makeup well.
Maybe one day I’ll “pass” as a ciswoman. I doubt it. That can’t be my goal. That goal would destroy me.
Society doesn’t care if I pass, I don’t think. What they care about is that I look like I’m trying. Which leaves me two options: pass or fail.
I don’t want to play that game at all.
* * *
An acquaintance of mine, who was loved dearly by people I love, was a transwoman named Feral Pines. She died in the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland last December. She died doing something I also do: playing electronic music in a weirdo DIY venue. Sometimes, when people you know die, you selfishly think about your own mortality.
A few evenings later, the night before my 34th birthday, I was thinking about Feral’s death and life. It was the last night of my early thirties. I’m getting older. All I could think was: “Oh god, I don’t want to die a boy.”
I came out to friends and family the next day.
* * *
A pretty common conversation I’ve had over the years, as I’ve publicly mused about transitioning (there’s that word again; I guess I use it myself), goes like this:
“Margaret, you shouldn’t transition, because you’re a handsome man but you’d make a kind of ugly woman, no offense.”
Sometimes I have that same conversation with myself.
Sometimes I have it with myself daily for months and I stress eat and mope and think unpleasant thoughts. Then I remember that I am what I am and dammit isn’t the point of punk to not give a fuck about what society expects me to look like, to act like, to consider beautiful?
To quote the CrimethInc poster, “Beauty must be defined as what we are, or else the concept itself is our enemy.”
* * *
It was easy to come out to my friends. I can filter my friends by their reactions. Anyone who has trouble with me as a transwoman isn’t my friend. It’s that simple.
Around my friends, in both anarchist and science fiction spaces, being a non-passing trans person scarcely even marks me as different. I might be the only one at any given party — though I doubt it — and I’m sure it colors people’s reactions to me to some degree, but overall it’s a non-issue. I’m fairly certain I’m known more as Margaret-who-writes-sci-fi or Margaret-who-almost-never-comes-to-meetings-and-when-she-does-she’s-sort-of-grumpy and not as Margaret-the-trans-girl-who-doesn’t-pass-for-shit.
It was harder to come out to my family.
I want to be clear: while it’s not the easiest thing they’ve ever dealt with, my family has been supportive.
But it’s with them that I feel the most pressure to look like I’m trying to pass. This pressure is almost entirely in my own head; my family doesn’t ask me when I’m going to start hormones or anything like that. But there’s really only one trans narrative that has broken into mainstream understanding — that of the person trapped in the wrong body, who needs to physically transition — and I find myself wanting to be legible to the people that I love. I want to be dealing with something that they can understand. I want them to be able to talk to their friends and have their friends get it.
That probably won’t happen.
* * *
For the first several months after I came out, I was a wreck. My self-esteem was through the floor. As soon as I judged myself by feminine beauty standards, everything went to shit.
Cisfeminine people deal with this too, of course. I find myself thinking “my shoulders are too broad” or “my waist is too square with my hips” or “my stomach isn’t flat” and those thoughts — or comparable ones — have run through the mind of every woman I know. Feminine beauty standards are absurd. It’s just that I’m newer to dealing with them.
There’s a specific kind of monstrosity that is the transwoman, though. A passing transwoman is a monster because she’s a deceiver. A non-passing transwoman is a monster because she is a pitiful, shameful being, a lost soul forever trapped in body limbo.
Without even realizing it, I fell into believing that about myself.
I snapped out of it, eventually. I don’t want to look like I’m trying and failing to be something I’m not. I just want to look like myself, whatever “myself” is at any given time.
There are probably steps I’m going to take to feminize my body, but all my money is going straight into my teeth these days, so it’s hard for me to even consider anything that requires financial investment. I think about feminization the same way that I think about future tattoos. I’m not not-myself because I don’t yet have the city of Hronople tattooed on my left thigh. I’m not not-myself because I still grow thick black hair on that same thigh.
* * *
There’s no reason for me to believe that my experience is typical of, or generalizable to, transwomen as a whole. I would never tell you that all transwomen can or should share this attitude about transition. The trans narrative that has broken into the mainstream did so by hard work and spilled blood, and it’s only holding on by the same. I am in complete solidarity with my trans sisters who choose to go whatever route.
* * *
There’s something dangerous but also entertaining about standing in front of a urinal in the men’s room while wearing fishnets and a miniskirt. For the time being, that’s what I’ll be doing, because people don’t tend to read me as trans.
When my friends or family “she” me in front of strangers, it’s going to continue to cause confusion because I don’t often wear the opaque foundation it would take to both hide my beard shadow and tell the world that I am jumping through the proper hoops to be accepted.
Many people are just going to outright not believe or understand me when I refer to myself as a woman. That’s fine. I’m probably not going to bother trying to convince society at large who I am. It’s too much work and it’s too self-destructive. I didn’t live this long iconoclastically to waste my time with shit like that now. My friends know me as “she,” my family knows me as “she.” I get to write my own bios in my books, so I’ll continue to publish as “she.” People will either accept it or they won’t.
Margaret Killjoy is a transfeminine author and editor currently based in the Appalachian mountains. Her most recent book is an anarchist demon hunters novella called The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, published by Tor.com. She spends her time crafting and complaining about authoritarian power structures and she blogs at birdsbeforethestorm.net.