“Am I trans enough?” Scratched into the paper, the razor-blade letters unapologetically stare back from above the slashed body illustrated below, blood like crimson tears running from two cuts along the chest and much more from between the legs. Above the opened head, the question is housed in a chaotic fume of twisted smoke, blinding my senses and pervading my thoughts as it holds my heart in an iron fist, gradually clenching tighter as I keep returning to it. I feel myself reaching through that smoke, as much as it stings my eyes, reaching, reaching, reaching out to the hand of the artist, whose face I know well and whose anguish I am terrified to say I know.
When Chris first asked me to be a co-president for the Queer Quarterly, trepidation fueled most my initial consideration. A rapid onset of euphoria and alacrity did bubble as well, but the emotional cocktail carried a stronger caustic flavor. I had only been out publicly for about three years, a whole range of experiences encountered but that same social anxiety persistent nevertheless. Never considering myself very altruistically inclined, let alone moderately relatable to most people, deeper paranoia racked me with the deepest persuasion that I would be a charlatan in accepting, my inexperience with other queer people and the professional world of art so inspiring. Regardless, I accepted, for the chance of new sensation and thus new knowledge thrilled me irrevocably, a chance to perhaps better view some essential truth about myself, about others, about something too great a temptation.
Interacting with the other officers, the other two mighty prongs of the great triumvirate, and soon our new club members, my tongue fell into occasional lapses of restraint. People say to forget the past, but the past more often chooses to remember and call on you, the same burning chains tethering you forever. Spoiler alert: the river Lethe does not exist. One of our first established rules concerned the necessity of acknowledging everyone’s identity as it was. No debates on validity or belonging, on gender expression or comparison, transmedicalist opinions to be left outside with the muck of trans- and homophobes. This particular rule I felt the most affinity toward, my peculiar fascination owing to the safety it afforded me with its branding reminders of who I had once been. Recollections proceeded, and I found myself back in my freshmen year, my first as an open genderfluid demiboy.
Being the only one I knew of in my sphere of social interaction, I became dominated by this isolation, an omnipresent series of icy needles constantly at my back, reminding me of how uniquely misunderstood I felt. Introversion aside, I naturally sought companionship in my sufferings and struggles in the only place where some degree of relation was easily accessible to a thirteen-year old. Scrolling through Youtube, it did not take me long to find other trans people like me, quickly intoxicating with that forever sweet rush of being known. The majority of my initial inquiries were based in passing and alleviating my perpetually mounting dysphoria, every look in the mirror a blinding light and every misgendering address of pronouns a gunshot from machine gun mouths.
Inevitably, dealing with my immediate crises no longer satisfied me. I sought more, a deeper understanding of the social dynamics within the LGBTQ+ community itself. Predictably, I turned to queer commenters on queer issues, gradually molding some of my first concrete opinion on socio-political matters. Stumbling rather unexpectedly upon the world of transmedicalism, I was exhilarated by the scientific clarity it superficially posed. Suddenly, the lapse of sync between my internal and external realities became clearer, formally distinguishing me from the cisnormative environment I was raised in. I had dysphoria, and that made me trans. Transmedicalism gave me a valid reason for hating myself and desiring correction. If I could just get those hormones and just get those surgeries, I would be all right, theoretically. All of my social confusions were thus unequivocally the fault of some hormonal accident in the womb.
Perhaps more fantastic was the justification it allowed for me to begin to despise others far more than I ever had. If you needed dysphoria to be trans, and some people did not experience dysphoria exactly as I did, some claiming not to feel it all, then there must be frauds within the trans community. Furthermore, apparently, they were making the rest of us look like jokes to cis people. Retrospectively, the immense concern I suddenly felt for ensuring that such a travesty was not facilitated is ridiculous. Whatever convinced me so ardently that it was my responsibility to judge the validity of my queer friends, even going so far as to openly insinuate one was just confused because they did not meet my arbitrary, conceited standards, almost remains a mystery. Yet, the merit of two years of growth and development clarify that corrupted source: reinforcement of that perpetual wartime mentality. The us-against-them instinct we teach to each other with the blood of our history and the knives of our words. Already so surrounded by the daily stressors adopted with the toga virilis, human fascination with logical empiricism and reasonable doubt dictates that we must draw the lines in the sand and choose our tribe. Effectively, we seek to understand our universe by contracting it to what is immediately comprehensible from our viewpoint. If only outer space was confined to what is visible from the night sky …
Falling in with such an ideological school had larger implications for my sexuality. With all due emphasis on the clear discernment of gender identity and sexual/romantic orientation, I am not of the persuasion that they are totally parallel phenomena. Contemporary heteronormative society abound, my early years had always received some sort of nuanced excitement from being primarily attracted to the gender I was originally assigned at birth. It made me different and interesting, so I thought, for the simple fact that I did not believe I was straight. Humanity overriding and sexuality being fluid, my affinity for the “opposite gender/sex” soon eclipsed my previous inclinations, a realization that turned the thought of my romantic success into one of self-loathing. So preoccupied with others’ perceptions of myself (an absurdly microcosmic representation of the entire trans community to the person I was then), fears prevailed that unless I conformed to that heteronormative stereotypes around gender-nonconforming people (e.g. more masculinely inclined people should seek out more femininely inclined people and vice versa), I was just another confused straight cisgender person intruding upon a community facing real struggles I would never know anything of. For the record, there is nothing wrong with being heterosexual and/or cisgender; my fears were rooted in the accusations I threw against myself and those I anticipated from others. For, surely, we can all taste the salt among the sugar. Unless I embellished my former attractions, the bloodhounds would arrive and tear me to shreds.
The sad, hypocritical irony is most evident in the way I responded to being misgendered or hearing ignorance from those around me. My mother often told me that I thought I knew better than everyone, which was very well true to some extent. Sometimes, I could not even stand to hear someone talk to me or about me, or even think about either of the two scenarios, for the salty, gut-twisting notion of hearing the wrong words crawl fire from their mouths. Hedonistic tendencies persuaded me to promote increased education regarding the implications of misgendering, dysphoria, and political incorrectness, but, alack, my path was perhaps too arrogantly forceful. In trying to expand the minds of others, I forgot to keep searching for the truth I so fervently believed I already knew.
Back and forth, the little mental monk paced in his concrete cell, forever locked in his own head in search of the transcendent God. A full three years older and speculatively wiser, I look at the faces of our members and wonder what inner battles they fight. More often than not, I am afraid of discouraging them from their potential and their freedom, leading them astray into the tar-ridden path I trod when I was their age. In these ponderings, I am once more reminded of the underlying thread that drew together the quilt of my problems: intrinsic fascination with perception. Even as I write this, I cannot help but care what you think, contemplate and ruminate over your judgements. Perhaps, it is only reflective of my seemingly inescapable self-obsession, a pit of narcissism impelling me to shudder with self-disgust. As of late, I try to force myself to abandon all attachments to “masculine” and “feminine” in description to anything but the experience of one’s personal gender relayed to me by said individual. It is easier not to care. My dysphoria still manages to convince me otherwise in the space of eternity squeezed into a moment, but consciously I can remember to believe it most of the time. I want to believe that I am a better person for undergoing that period of hatred and suffering, but the exact qualification of “better” would lead me into digression. I would ask you, but that would be contrary to the whole point, would it not?