Trans activism is trending right now. It’s important to many people’s self-concept that they be vehement defenders of trans people. They have a big ego stake in getting to play this role. They make a point of telling you how brave you are. They make a point of telling you they don’t believe in labels. They make a point of telling you they find androgyny sexy. They make a point of leaping on other people talking to you, emphasizing your pronoun–HE he’s a HE–and their eyes gleam because they get to be the good one, they get to be the hero, they get to make a point.
They do not make it a point to let you have any control.
Thus, the ally who researched me on the internet and Facebook messaged me asking me why I wasn’t using male pronouns at the club, as I was in every other aspect of my life. When I told him surgery was awhile off for me, I didn’t want to have endless conversations about my gender at work, and could he please use she/her pronouns for me when he saw me there, came into the club a week later using male pronouns for me. In front of a friend from his work, of course.
Thus, the ally who was the boss at a queer and trans nonprofit who made all her employees yell our preferred pronouns out at the top of our lungs to a picnic of a couple hundred at a public park, not thinking, hey I wonder if my employees feel safe identifying themselves as trans to a couple hundred strangers. (I didn’t, but didn’t know how to opt out without being even more visible.)
Thus, the ally who invited me on his podcast but actually he wanted to hang out, and actually he wanted to take me out to eat because actually, as he explained to me over pad thai, he was very uncomfortable with being gay, and dating trans guys (with, you know, not dicks) really took the edge off of that discomfort.
That ally was onto something. That was none of my business, and I didn’t like being put in a position where someone was telling me so explicitly what my body meant to them, especially while I was eating. I would prefer to be the only one whose psychological reactions to my vulva I get surprised with.
But that guy was right on about what is behind the desire to have a Supporter relationship to someone you actually don’t know anything about, besides the fact that they are belong to a category of people whom it is a Good Thing to Support. It’s about being uncomfortable, and trying to scramble into a relationship to the person where you have some control. It’s a reaction that comes from the same fear that drives attacking or ignoring that person, and certainly being a target of being Supported is a preferable experience, but it also messes with your head.
Thus, my ex-friend Ed, who considered himself a staunch ally, and who I lived with until I had a mental breakdown.
I moved to California when I did because Ed had a room open up in his Berkeley hippie house. I had known Ed from my time in Chicago, when he dated a sizable percentage of my lopsided haircut lady friends. I considered him a consummate good dude, It hadn’t taken much for him to earn that title: he had once talked me down when one of our mutual friends was being a brat, he had once invited me over for burritos, and we had gone out to some open mics together. We hadn’t kept in touch very much since Chicago, but we had both been on a friend vacation to New Orleans where we had done shrooms, so I felt close to him.
I was really looking forward to doing comedy projects with Ed. That’s what I’d been doing in my hometown– comedy projects, with dude friends. I love having some dudes to make something funny with. When I decided I was over dating dudes and thus ready to transition, doing a comedy project with a dude was my absolute favorite relationship to have with a dude.
I was also fleeing my hometown when I moved to Berkeley. The comedy scene, while full of dudes I really loved and loved being around, also had a rapist in it. (While it would be so great if that fact narrowed down for you what my hometown is, believe me, it doesn’t.) Since starting testosterone I had also, through a combination of that substance and marijuana and spending more time with one dude in particular than I had allowed myself to spend with any one dude in years, fallen pretty hard for said dude. That was not the plan, I was not in any way comfortable with it. I needed to put a continent between me and those particular challenges.
It was going to be the real start to my dude life. Everyone in my hometown knew me as a woman, so they were always going to remember, but people in Berkeley, California didn’t know me at all. The pronoun thing would be easy, the believing me about being a dude thing would be easy, also people in California would be completely chill and over this trans stuff, so getting a job would be easy.
I fundamentally didn’t understand the trans bubble phenomenon. See, if you are in a trans social bubble in California, then even if you don’t pass, as I didn’t, in that bubble people are sufficiently familiar with trans stuff that you don’t need to explain your pronoun to them. But the vast majority of people in California are grappling with the same set of emotional reactions the vast majority of people in my home state are grappling with when it comes to non-passing trans people: they want to be nice, they don’t want to make you feel bad, you also make them feel really weird and they can’t act right because they’re so distracted by how weird they feel. So what do they do with feeling weird? They call you dude at the beginning of every sentence, as if to remind themselves. If they’re a woman, they try to sleep with you. They make lots of jokes about whether you understand football more. They post links to your Facebook wall when Sweden does anything with gender. They assume you would like a review of their own gender and sex feelings, like times they felt gay, and how gay does that really make them, and how can they tell which friends of theirs are how gay.
Ed’s hippie house was not in any way in a trans bubble. These were straight hippies. It was confusing, because they considered themselves above being into sports, they were into making elaborate smoothies and strange teas, and there was a chore wheel, and I associate all of those lifestyle choices with queer people. But they moved in absolutely straight circles. I was perhaps not the first trans person they had met, but I was absolutely the first trans person they’d had a conversation with. I had not had to fit in with straight people in awhile, and as I learned through my time in the house, in straight circles women put up with a lot of bullshit.
That first month as I settled in me and Ed went heavy on the friend time. The first warning I had that something was off occurred the second weekend I lived there. Ed was building a structure in the backyard and he asked if I wanted to help. Once we started it became clear that he wanted to use this time to teach me about power tools. I felt funny about it: on the one hand, ok, he was trying to affirm my gender, on the other hand it was a little odd to assume I wanted him to teach me how to perform masculinity. Power tools are useful. They don’t play much of a role in my life. But I let my wariness slide–he was trying to be nice.
Allies are always trying to be nice along a very specific direction. You will receive the help they choose to give. They will demonstrate what kind of person they are to you and the world through their interactions with you. You, the marginalized person, do not particularly have anything to teach them. You will not demonstrate who you are, besides compliantly playing a person who is helped. To play the person who is helped you do not make demands of the helper, you do not give feedback about the help besides communicating gratitude, and you certainly never correct the helper.
On my birthday Ed bought me cake, fed me shrooms, and took me to the Albany Bulb, where I had incredible revelations about what it is to build a home, and saw a whale (for real, Ed saw it too). We caught up on our creative ambitions since we had left Chicago, we biked around Berkeley, he showed me where you can buy the damaged vegetables at Berkeley Bowl and recommended the best coffeehouse for getting writing done (according to Ed the trick was to pick the most boring, basic, no chance they’re serving pour-overs coffee shop you can find.) I was so relieved to be away from the guy in my hometown, who I was heartbroken over and ashamed of feeling heartbroken over, and in retrospect I was desperate for another guy friendship, one that I wouldn’t mess up.
Ed wasn’t particularly interested in my ideas for comedy projects but he had an idea himself. He wanted to film an interview with me in front of a green screen and then edit different backgrounds onto the footage. It sounded trippy, and I understood that the way I looked was deeply interesting to people, and I was down to mess around and see what he came up with. Also he presented the green screen materials as a birthday gift, after that magical Albany Bulb excursion, so I believed in his good intentions. We set up the green screen, we smoked a bowl and drank some beers, and the interview started.
The next day I watched the footage. Ed had asked me about my spiritual beliefs, he had asked me about sex stuff, he had asked me about gender stuff, duh. I saw myself talking about this stuff high, trans, weird-looking, saying things that most people think are pretty strange, and I understood that if this video was on the internet I could never be any kind of professional. It would probably keep me from getting hired even for serving jobs if this was in my Google results. I understood that what was supposed to be funny about the video was actually me, me talking about the divine, me talking about how people should treat each other, me being my authentic self. I was the funny thing. The video was going to be trippy and ridiculous because Ed understood me to be trippy and ridiculous.
I am often trippy and ridiculous. Especially with people I trust, especially on substances. But I also have always assumed that my ideas and my actions are important in the world, that I’m necessary, that I’ll end up someone who is respected and listened to in a professional context. Ed clearly did not have this vision for my life. Ed appeared to think my ambition was to be a viral punchline.
I couldn’t wrap my head around this. Ed was a good dude, and he was a big supporter of my transition, and he was now my very best friend within 2,000 miles, so how could it be that he saw me this way?
Was it drugs? Ed had done all those drugs with me. Was it the comedian thing? Ed did know lots of people who were throwing themselves at comedy, who would slice off a nut to be a viral punchline, so maybe that’s how he thought I felt about things too. But a sliver of paranoia lodged in my brain that Ed regarded me as a funny spectacle. I didn’t figure it out. I didn’t give him the footage.
It was a god awful summer. Meeting all new people when you are to many of them a spectacle of a person is torture. Around normal people I couldn’t get past being the trans person. Around queer people I couldn’t get past being a sexualized object. There were ways to feel desperately lonely while surrounded by people I had just never been aware of. There’s “a bunch of straight boys are talking comedy in the kitchen and none of them will acknowledge you when you enter the room” lonely. There’s “chatting at a house party with some people and then they use ‘she’ for you and you say ‘oh, I use he’ and they scatter” lonely. There’s “realizing if you talk to your straight girl roommate for long enough she will always bring the conversation around to how you can tell whether a bi woman is actually bi or just experimenting” lonely. There’s “going on dates with a lady and she sends you nudes and when you don’t make a sex date right away she accuses you of hating women” lonely. There’s “going to a party with all queer people and they say a bunch of dismissive stuff about people in the midwest, stare like you’re crazy when you get offended, and then when you leave the house you hear them giggling about you being hot” lonely.
Now if I had known comedians, and especially ambitious comedians, hung out at this house I wouldn’t have moved in. I’ve been around enough of those to know I can’t deal with how seriously they internalize whatever spot in the local hierarchy they’ve scrambled up to. One of Ed’s friends was a talented comedian, who I can attest was a super funny performer, but the thing was he wouldn’t look at or talk to me, and he was over our house quite a bit. I complained to Ed and he told me, “Oh, that’s just his personality, he’s probably on the spectrum.” I happen to know it’s a weakness of mine that I jump to being offended with people who can’t do eye contact, so I thought, ok, I’ll work on this. Then I mentioned to our roommate Lucy how hard it was for me not to get angry when I’d open the front door for this guy, say, “Hi, how are you doing?” and he wouldn’t respond at all, just walk past me and sit down. Lucy said, “Oh yeah, he doesn’t talk to any of the girls–he still won’t talk to me either.”
Oh. So the deal is this dude is someone who we all let off the hook for basic courtesy only when it comes to people in female bodies. So when he comes over I get a nice reminder that I’m in a female body and not worth working on being courteous to. Is this a thing straight woman put up with, dudes that will only interact with males? I had been existing in explicitly queer, explicitly feminist social circles for so long I just couldn’t wrap my head around the whole house being cool with this.
After four months of being a Californian I was falling apart. I retreated to my basement room, and got high every day, all day. Every time I’d have a bad interaction, every time I got the vibe I was being received as a a freak or a novelty or a sex object, it would be that much harder to leave the room. I started sneaking out of the house and buying corner store sandwiches for meals because I just couldn’t work up the nerve to interact with my roommates.
While this was happening my body dysphoria was also pulling me under. I loved the feeling of being on T, but looking in the mirror was confirmation I didn’t look any closer to looking like a dude. I looked like a fatter, hairier, older woman, unmistakably a woman, no confusion about it. My tits had grown a little floppier from binding, but my thighs were still assertive and abundant. I had taken to wearing pants that were 2 sizes too big, as if people could be fooled into thinking my legs were just uniformly massive from the ankles up, as if that was somehow a more masculine silhouette.
Dysphoria is a motherfucker. Mine felt like a sudden crushing deep despair. It took on an unreal, dreamlike quality, like seeing an ex-fiance from across the street, glowing, holding a stranger’s hand. If I wasn’t looking in the mirror I could live in this delusion that I was a straight up and down kind of person, that my shoulders and arms V-ed out from my waist. I, in all seriousness, had gotten the idea that I could end up looking like David Duchovny, and that is painful to admit, because I feel so stupid to have become convinced that wanting that equaled someday getting that.
Ed was lucky in his body. His shoulders and arms V-ed out from his waist. He could grow his hair shoulder length in the Berkeley white dude style and he didn’t look any less dudely. He could’ve gone around in a flower crown and he still wouldn’t have read as effeminate. As my delusions about what my body could look like were being eroded, the way Ed got to walk around in his body started to bum me the fuck out.
One day I noticed the the light fine hairs between my breasts and at the small of my back were getting thicker and darker. Surgery wasn’t anywhere near the horizon–I was working at a fancy old folk’s home, earning not much more than my rent, with no insurance. I knew if I kept on with the testosterone I was only assuring that I would look like a very strange woman, nothing else. I stopped. I got my period the first day after my first missed shot. My body is nothing if not enthusiastically female.
Between the social anxiety and the dysphoria, if I was awake I was miserable. I must have been good at hiding it. Because my roommates acted like I was just a really funny stoner. When I’d stay in my room, wrapped in my blankets, listening to the kitchen upstairs until it sounded like it was empty so I could get some food, they assumed I was sleeping late. When my eyes were red and puffy, they didn’t ask if I had been crying, they assumed I was high as balls. (In fairness, I was usually both high as balls and crying.) Marijuana had become a central part of how they saw me, and that only made me a funnier character to them.
I was too dependent on friend time with Ed to remember that I was the same person I was before moving to Berkeley. I felt chronically disconnected, like the person I’d been for 31 years had just disappeared off the planet, the person who did well in school and had good ideas and wasn’t a joke to everybody, like that person had died and I was just walking around using the body. I would have strong sensations of being a ghost–there was a living world around me that couldn’t sense that I was there, and that I couldn’t touch, only observe.
Ed had a girlfriend named Amy, a very sweet 24 year-old who looked like a more petite, curly haired Taylor Swift. There was a nervous tension between us–it was apparent it was important to both of us to be each other’s friend, but the emotional charge that informed that made us both very careful when talking to one another. She was very into him, in a way only a young woman, waiting for some narrative to kick in in her life, can be for an older boyfriend who takes his time alone very seriously. They had a regular fight about him not sleeping over at her place in the city but always making sure to catch the last BART. Ed had once confided in me, as we were setting up a projector to watch YouTube clips, blazed out of our heads, that he loved her but on the weekends he would rather just stay home and smoke pot with me. I thought, but did not say, “That’s because I’m your age, dumbass.”
All too aware that dude friends will peace out if the intimacy lines get blurred, I really tried to spread my sources of friend time out. It was a relief when I got my own younger person to date.He was a very cute 23 year-old trans guy, all muscles and enthusiasm, not one shred of jadedness or skepticism in his worldview. His transition had been as easy as one of those can get–his college insurance covered the surgery, he passed two months into taking T, his family went with it, and he worked for their small business, so he didn’t ever have to disclose to a boss or make a big announcement to coworkers. He actually wanted to get into the disclosure/announcement game–it bothered him when a lesbian couple would come into the business that they couldn’t read him as someone in their community. He wanted to start making presentations to high schoolers about trans issues. He longed for the ever-present visibility I couldn’t get out from under.
If you are a person in your thirties feeling stupid about your life choices, I can’t recommend dating an easily impressed young person enough. He once said to me, “You could date anyone and you’re choosing to date me.” Me–who had two employable skills (serving and answering phones), an unfinished masters, credit card and student loan debt, boobs and a cracking voice and periods and a daily crying habit–he said to that version of me that I could date anyone. 23 year-olds, man. Goddess bless every one of them.
For about two months having a boyfriend solved a lot of my problems. I had someone who knew what I was talking about when I talked about dysphoria. When I was with him I got read as a trans guy rather than just a masculine woman, so I got sir’ed and he’d without having to say anything. I now had a way to put off the women who felt free to aggressively hit on me. Having some hugs and hand-holding did a lot for my feelings of ghostliness. A month into us dating I got out of the job at the fancy old folk’s home and got into the rich person club job. The prospects were looking up for surgery.
I had made it through the fall and I was looking at a 2014 where I could have surgery, get back on testosterone, lock down this kid I was dating and live the California trans fag dream. I threw myself into enjoying the holidays. There was no possibility of flying home for Christmas, and I ached for my family and for snow, but I was going to make the best of it. Ed was having his mom, dad and brothers up from Southern California for the holiday, a friend of my roommate Lucy was hosting a Christmas dinner, and I was psyched for some fellowship. I set myself up in the kitchen to make pierogis, my family’s Christmas tradition. People were in and out of the house all day; I set them up with drinks, made conversation and rolled and folded pierogis, all day long. When I brought the pierogis to the dinner it was clear me, the host and Lucy had all spent all day cooking for this dinner. The other guests were men. One gentleman showed up with a bottle of wine, which seemed like an appropriate, if not quite equal, contribution. One gentleman showed up on shrooms, thus not hungry and also high as balls, and when I asked everyone what their favorite holiday was he replied, “I hate all holidays.” This behavior seemed to me an especially inappropriate contribution. One gentleman showed up halfway through dinner, with nothing, and when shrooms guy took off, and I commented how totally disrespectful showing up on shrooms to a dinner your friend spent all day cooking for was, he said to me, “Now, let’s not do that.”
Yeah, let’s not name asshole behavior. That’s not nice. Let’s just cook all damn day for dudes who take it for granted. That’s enlightened. I told Ed about shrooms guy, and he laughed at how worked up I was about it. “I know that guy though, that’s just how he is; he’s a good dude.”
The day after Christmas I came up from my room into the kitchen and Amy was sitting at the table hunched over, looking tiny and miserable. I asked her how the family visit was going and she started crying, and told me that in reference to the family’s plans for dinner Ed had said to her, “I mean, if you want to come, you can” in a way that made her think he really didn’t want her to come. It might sound like she was reading into things, but I definitely knew the emotional spot she was in. She loved him. She was psyched to get folded into his family. She wanted him to act like he was psyched for that too. I think those expectations and desires make a lot of sense.
I told her she had to remember that Ed was a dude, and thus, a dumbass, who had not been socialized to have the empathetic insights that would enable him to act right. Thus, she would have to be the one to be the emotional leader in the relationship, to direct him to act right, because the chances he would get there on his own were slim. I told her this was an exceptionally normal fight for a woman and a man to have, and it wasn’t about mismatched affection and commitment, it was about one set of persons being raised to be a lot less aware of how they are affecting people than the other set of persons. The trick was she just had to both believe and act like her emotional needs were important enough to communicate clearly and make authoritative requests about.
I fed her the Everybody Loves Raymond guide to heterosexuality. She perked up. We hugged. I was thrilled. It was the advice I wanted to go back in time and give my 22 year-old-self, who also dated an older, self-involved, male dumbass. I felt like me and Amy might be starting down the path of being buddies, that maybe she could feel more secure in her relationship, come around the house more, maybe smoke and watch some movies with us and my friendship with Ed would be safe and non-threatening and secure.
I spent January working at the rich dude club, hanging out with my 23 year-old, and thus not around the hippie house much. My enthusiasm for the job as a path to surgery was failing, as I picked up the vibe that my bosses who knew I was trans saw me as one of the club’s many novelties. I had also stopped being able to have sex with my boyfriend–I would look at his masculinized chest, and slim hips, and all I could think was that I’d never get that. If I was going to pass as a dude someday, it would be as a bald bearded dude with a crazy fat ass, far below David Duchovny in the dude hierarchy. The momentum was gathering for another crash into despair. I just plain old wasn’t going to have the body I would forget I didn’t already have. So those dysphoric feelings were going to remain, whether people expected me to like scrapbooking or sports.
During this time Ed started doing a new weird thing. He would be normal if it was just the two of us, but as soon as another person was in the room he’d interact with me in this super jokey tone, like we were putting on little skits for whoever else was in the room. He was really into calling me “champ” and “playboy,” especially if I had just spent a lot of time with the boyfriend. I was 31, I had been through a lot in my life, I certainly had the debt and the deep weariness of a full grown adult, and he was talking to me like I was 13 year old.
Some mutual friends of me and Ed were coming to visit us in February. For some reason the trip was planned to be a surprise for Ed. Then we found out that the weekend the friends were visiting was Amy’s birthday, and Amy and Ed had gotten an Airbnb in Santa Cruz.
My friend called me all frantic, and I said, “look, me and Amy are buddies now, I’ll just tell Amy this trip is happening and ask if she wants to get in on helping plan the party.” I was thinking, Amy wants to be incorporated into Ed’s like, she probably wants to meet all these friends of his. So I text Amy, and she agrees to get in on making the surprise party happen. Now, I didn’t bring up the Santa Cruz AirBnB, and when she didn’t say anything about it, I didn’t say anything about it. I should’ve read the obvious into that: she didn’t bring up the AirBnB because she was scared of saying no to me.
Two days later Ed sits down at the kitchen table and says he’s got something we need to talk about. Amy had lasted a day keeping the secret of the party, had acted inexplicably salty at him, then ended up bursting into tears and telling him everything because she was so disappointed not to have a weekend with him in Santa Cruz for her birthday. So Ed said to her, I’ll just talk to my friends and tell them I can’t do this surprise party thing, don’t worry.
He tells me all this, and I’m not that concerned about the surprise party not happening because it had seemed like a big, pointless pain in the ass, but I am kind of salty at Amy. Because it’s like, girl, you could’ve talked to me so that you didn’t ruin the surprise of the friends visiting, remember when you cried and we hugged and I solved your dumb boyfriend problem?
I thought back to me at 22 and I thought, well, she was upset, she was scared to say no to me, she’s 24, whatever. I say to Ed, “That all makes sense, I didn’t really have the energy for throwing a surprise party anyway.” Then he says, “Well, thanks. You know Amy was just so upset, it’s her birthday, and she’s also, well, she told me she’s about to have her period.”
And immediately I was fucking done with these shitty straight hippies. I turned on a goddamn dime about that boy. I hated his ignorant, white, liberal arts educated with no student loans, dating a 24 year-old girl who’s scared of saying what she feels, thinks it’s normal for her to burst into tears every month, thinks he knows what the fuck a period is like, defending his dudes who won’t acknowledge I exist, not dysphoric, not a spectacle, not a novelty, not a viral punchline ASS. I HATED HIS ASS.
I said, in a low, modulated, gentle tone, “Well, I’m glad she’s having her period if that’s what made her be open about her feelings.”
I wanted to BURN that hippie house down.
In college, after I was raped, I was angry all the time. I woke up angry and crying, I failed a couple classes, I got kicked out of the honors program, I drank and partied every night. I knew I wasn’t right, but I didn’t have any clue bout why because I wasn’t thinking about that rape as a rape. I thought of it as “consensual sex in which I was humiliated.” I still knew I wasn’t right enough that I made an appointment at the student counseling center. The intake counselor was a very handsome man in his thirties in a green pullover sweater. I told him I was angry all the time, that I was never not angry, and it didn’t seem right to me to be this constantly angry.
He asked, “Does it get worse before your period?”
I said it got only a little bit worse, but it was always really bad, the whole month.
He said, “Before you see a counselor I want you to see your ob-gyn.”
I said ok I will do that but please may I also make a counseling appointment?
You know what you feel like when you start sticking a needle full of testosterone cypionate in your thigh muscle every two weeks? You feel like you do right before your period. Because right before your period your estrogen and progesterone levels both drop low, which means that time is when you can feel the effects of the testosterone that’s pretty much staying at a consistent level in you throughout the month.
Which means for the nine months I was on testosterone I always felt like I was about to get my period. It felt fantastic. Nine months of fuck it. Fuck it, let’s get into that fight, and fuck it, I’m gonna get nasty on someone tonight, and fuck it people need to get out of my face so I can give this sandwich the smashing it’s begging me for. Like PMS. At least that’s what I feel like before I’m about to bleed. Nowadays I go buck wild for two days and sometime during that second night I’m like, oh right. This is me on testosterone. I remember.
I cannot deal with guys insinuating women are crazy before their periods, because I strongly, strongly suspect because that’s when women feel how guys feel all month. Certainly dudes are testy and conflict prone enough that they could all be about to bleed.
The trippiest part of all that? I had told Ed both these things- I had told him about that counselor directing me to go see an ob-gyn, and I had told him about how testosterone felt like PMS. I was clearly not a person who would agree that his girlfriend was being unreasonable before her period. I could not be any more the least likely person to agree with that sentiment. But I guess he hadn’t connected any dots, not one, about who I was, what I’d been through, and what I thought about men acting like women are crazy. All I could think was, this fucking dumbass.
That weekend, I was laying in my bed listening to the kitchen upstairs hoping people would clear out so I could get breakfast. I waited for two hours and it was clear they were parked up there. I dragged myself upstairs–my eyes were their normal red from crying.
I get up there and Ed and two other roommates are seated at the table. Ed says, “Late night, playboy?”
I got so heated. Right away I was shaking with anger.
He asked, “What are you getting into today?”
I said, “I’m hanging out with the boyfriend; we’re going to buy me a skateboard.”
Ed said, “I’ve got one you could use.”
I said, and I sounded crazy when I said it, because I was so pissed off, “I’d rather have my own.”
Ed says, “…ok.”
Then Lucy mentions a comedian’s podcast she thought Ed would like. This comedian was a guy me and Ed had seen together, in Chicago, years ago. He was also a dude who, immediately before I decided it was time to transition, I slept with. (Just imagine what that sex was like.)
Ed burst out laughing. I said, real mean, shaking with anger, “Oh it’s real fucking funny Ed.”
Our other dude roommate, this very Buddhist guy, asked, “Are you okay, M?”
I said, “No I am not fucking okay. I’m here in California and I have to work this shitty job and I’m not making comedy and everyone here is rude as fuck and I can’t even get coffee without people laughing at my sex life in the kitchen!”
I said something like that. I don’t really remember it clearly. I remember shaking and I remember yelling.
I stomped away. There were emails sent back and forth, there was a house meeting in which Ed told me I had made the house a very uncomfortable place for everybody. I replied I had been uncomfortable in the house for a long time. When I told him he was giving me nicknames because I was trans, Ed said he called our other dude roommate “champ” and “playboy” all the time. That roommate told me Ed had never said anything like that to him. Ed wanted apologies from me, and he actually got some, but I guess not the right ones. I sent a mutual friend an email where I called him a “fucking bro” and I believe that got back to him and I think that was the thing he couldn’t forgive.
I couldn’t find housing being out about being trans, but I found some using she/her pronouns. My boss at the rich guy club wouldn’t impress me with the folly of dudehood for another month more. The 23 year-old dumped me soon after because I was avoiding being awake in a bed with him.The three men I had felt closest to in the past year were now all estranged from me.
Uncomfortable people are not at their best. Uncomfortable people, people resisting things they don’t want to feel–whether that’s angry or scared or or vulnerable–just don’t act right. They’re so worked up they can’t really consider what role they are playing in other people’s realities. They’re just trying to shout to the world: “I’m fine!” “I’m totally chill!” “I’m your ally!” “I’m a good one!”
After I moved out of that house I had to start thinking hard about whether this trans identity of mine was doing me any favors. It wasn’t going to make me more comfortable in my body, and was making everyone around me very uncomfortable, which then was bringing out strange reactions from them that made me extremely uncomfortable–did it have an upside? Was there going to be something that made all this alienation, plus dudes getting the idea I shared their disdainful perception of their girlfriend’s menstrual cycle, worth it?
Nowadays I think back to my time in Berkeley when I feel the urge to act in a way that shouts, “I’m an ally!” at some marginalized person. You want to be an ally, chill the fuck out. Let yourself feel uncomfortable and don’t try to rush through it. Let other people have control over what happens to them. Don’t make a bunch of jokes at them. Don’t rush to put a spotlight on them. Don’t use them to get to play a hero. Listen without rolling your eyes. Treat their feedback as a valuable way to learn about the effects of your behavior on people around you. If they freak out on you, and it seems unreasonable, allow the possibility they might be uncomfortable in ways you’ve never experienced and you’re never going to know about, because the world is not treating you the same way it’s treating them.
I moved out of Berkeley into Oakland. I now had my head wrapped around the reality that as long as I didn’t pass, I was going to be subject to the same sexism everyone else who gets read as a woman is subject to, and I was going to continue to take on that whole new universe of weird reactions from people who I made uncomfortable as a visible trans person. If I waited it out at the club job I could get surgery, and I could save money for some thigh lipo, and if I got back on testosterone in a couple of years I could pass, not as the dude in my head, but as a bald, bottom heavy guy. I would in all likelihood still experience dysphoria. Once passing happened guys were going to assume I shared their disdainful views of women, and I now was clear about myself that I would want to freak out on them. I didn’t want any of the choices. Whatever path I took I was going to be very uncomfortable and very angry for a long time.
I was incredibly sorry for myself. I felt totally trapped by my own actions, pinned down to feeling miserable no matter what I did. Life seemed like a really surreal and terrible nightmare. When I’d go to work I’d take the train into the city early and sit at the Embarcadero, watching the waves of the Bay splash up and down, fantasizing about what it would feel like to throw myself in.
And that’s how things began to turn around.