Outside the Lines: The Trans-formation of Chris

On June 15th 2020 the U.S. Supreme court ruled in a 6-3 decision, that “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.” The ruling dealt with three LGBTQ employment issues; two regarding sexual orientation and another relating to gender identity.

The decision to interpret sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity, is said to have broad implications. Said Justice Samuel Alito in his dissent, “Over 100 federal statutes prohibit discrimination because of sex,” making this decision very significant for the rights of LGBTQ people in the United States.

The ruling will protect millions of workers from discrimination in the workplace and is a defeat for the current administration. They argued that the Civil Rights Act (Title VII), only deals with biological sex discrimination and does not extend to gender identity and sexual orientation.

This issue of gender identity can be a bit confusing. Transgender people in particular are rare and you may not be aware that you know or have met one. A 2017 Gallup poll estimates in Washington state, .62% of our adult population is transgender.

What does that mean in the Snoqualmie Valley? It means that out of approximately 48,000 adult residents, it’s possible that 297.6 of them are transgender. Given the confusion over what all this means I decided to talk to my friend, Chris, a valley resident who happens to be transgender.

The dictionary definition of transgender is, “denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex.” Older terms such as “transsexual” or “transvestite” are, for the most part, no longer used. I asked Chris what it was like to grow up in a body that didn’t accurately reflect his gender, and when he first noticed he was somehow different from everyone else.

The biggest moment was when I started school.  This was the 70s so I don’t think they do this now, but there was a boy’s line and a girl’s line and I kept getting in the boy’s line, over and over.  After I finally gave that up because of the teacher getting mad and kids laughing, I would try to not quite stand in the girl’s line. I was constantly telling people that I was not a girl.

I assumed I was just a weird boy. I had no vocabulary to express what was going on. I expect the adults in my life were pretty clueless too. I didn’t learn about transsexuals (the term at the time) until I was a teen. I told my mom about it all excited but she told me it was just males transitioning to females. She had that “don’t talk about this tone,” so I just stuffed it down. I didn’t know why I hated my body so much or felt so awkward all the time.

In junior high, I went through a brief phase of trying to be a girl. I wore makeup, got girl clothes, and tried to act more “girl” but hated it and was no good at it. So, I quit. Even though I stopped trying to identify as a male I still really didn’t identify as female.

Chris spent more than 30 years not looking in the mirror because the person looking back wasn’t him. He says it was so alienating to see the wrong person looking back at him that he would occasionally stick out his tongue to verify that it was indeed him.  

I can’t even imagine growing up feeling that way. We live in a very binary world, as Chris experienced in that school line up.  To be accepted you need to fit into the girl category or the boy category. Most of us are lucky enough to have our biological sex (what you are born), our sexual orientation (who you are attracted to) and our gender identity (your sense of whether you are male or female) all lined up to fit what Western society says is “normal.”

I asked Chris what life was like after school but before he decided to transition.

I spent a lot of time trying to be normal and successful. I got a good job then crashed into a depression. I was suicidal. So, I got into therapy and dealt with a lot of stuff. I still hated my body. I still felt completely alienated from the reflection in the mirror. One day I looked in the mirror and asked myself why I hated what I saw so much? Even after all the hard work in therapy? The answer was really clear, I wasn’t that person. I was a man. I did a lot of reading about being transgender and at my next therapy appointment told my therapist. She was super supportive. I found the Ingersoll Gender Center in Seattle, they had peer support groups, which helped. When I started going there, it was the first time I ever got to talk to people like me. It was amazing and so affirming.

Statistics show staggering levels of attempted suicide among transgender youths. A 2018 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, shows transgender female to male adolescents reported the highest rate of attempted suicide at 50.8%, male to Female came in at 29.9%. It seems that we need to do a better job recognizing these people and assessing risk early on.

Chris was in his late 30’s when he started his transition.

Within a couple of months after I told my therapist things got moving. My work didn’t officially recognize me for about 2.5 months, because of a process with Human Resources. A year after that I had some surgeries to help with body image. My name and gender marker changed on official documents (social security, driver’s license, medical insurance) which took about a year. The process is a pain and takes a long time, meanwhile you are getting reminded of the identity that’s so wrong.

This is another reason why the Supreme Court ruling is so important to transgender people. A rule proposed by the HHS Office for Civil Rights, under the current administration, would reverse a rule in the Affordable Care Act that prohibits discrimination based on sex or gender identity. People like Chris could be denied care at a doctor’s office and/or for an issue related to his biological sex or transition.

Chris told me how hard transitioning was on him and the people around him. He’d have to find a transgender-friendly doctor for procedures/care and then try to get insurance to pay for it. Get time off work. Find the money to pay for what insurance wouldn’t. He had to find a doctor who would prescribe testosterone and have it shipped to him because local pharmacies didn’t have it.

I had to come out at work which was scary and hard. Most of my co-workers were good, many were awkward which I understand and a few were not supportive. One quit speaking to me entirely after I transitioned. Fortunately, my management was supportive so I knew I didn’t have to be bullied at work. Transitioning and coming out is hard and people don’t do it lightly. I don’t know a trans person who hasn’t been bullied, physically threatened, or attacked. Things are getting better but there’s still a lot of hate out there.

I had to tell friends and family, which was scarier in some ways. Most weren’t that surprised – and my sister asked me what took so long. My mom really didn’t get it. I think she wanted to be supportive but she treated me sort of like a bit of a freak show and she wanted a girl. She died before I fully transitioned. My dad? Well, that one is hard. He was actually supportive of me being who I was as a kid. He taught me everything he taught my brother. The relationship was complicated so unfortunately, I’d already cut contact with him before I came out.

The whole process took years, lots of paperwork, stress, and a lot of money. It took years of reminding people (friends, coworkers, clients) about my new name and gender for them to get it. I still come across people who knew me before and get it wrong.

Chris wanted to make sure the point was made that his experience will not be the same as others. He said to not assume a transgender person wants to answer questions or explain their experience. Questions about anatomy and former names (deadnaming) are particularly unwelcome in the majority of cases. He feels its disrespectful to his identity. He says:

Not all trans people want to have surgeries. For some, just living in their gender is enough. For others there are medical or financial reasons why they can’t have surgery. Or a mix of many of those reasons.

I met Chris after his transition. I knew he was transgender, but never really asked many questions, I figured it was none of my business. He said if people do want to ask questions of someone, first ask if it’s ok. That person may be ok with answering in one setting, but not in another. He says the same goes for being out. He feels his identity is pretty well known here, but he’s not out at work. He’d just rather not deal with all that at work.

On the subject of misgendering/pronouns he says:

Pronouns do matter but I get that people make mistakes. When you have a whole group of trans people together, we sometimes mess up each other genders. It’s a lot to remember. So, making a mistake (not misgendering by intent) is ok, but don’t be upset if you get corrected. I mean, how else are you going to know if we don’t tell you? Asking to be gendered correctly really shouldn’t get your panties in a bunch.

Chris’s hormones took some time to work and it was stressful living as a male, but not looking male. On the whole issue of transgender people and bathrooms, he notes that older transmen tend towards heavy set, balding and bearded. They look very male, so to send them to the bathroom of their birth sex makes no sense at all. It would cause more issues than to just let them use the bathroom of their gender. After all transwomen have been doing it for years.

I recalled a time when I visited him at work and handed him my new puppy to hold. Somehow, she got completely tangled in a carbineer on his belt. We could NOT get her loose. We were fumbling, she was yelping and biting so I said, “just go into the bathroom and see if you can get her loose by lowering your pants.” I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I could see that was a minefield for him. We finally got her loose, but it struck me as awful. Something as basic as using a restroom shouldn’t be a big thing. Allowing a person’s basic dignity shouldn’t be so hard. He says:

Maybe if you’ve had all the operations and you pass really well, that discomfort goes away. But that’s not my experience and not the experience of so many trans people. Public bathrooms are uncomfortable. Even if you know you will probably pass and not be questioned. There will always be that “what if.” A lot of trans people will go a long way out of their way to find a more private place to go. Of course, that’s often not an option and if you don’t pass well, it’s freaking scary every single time.

The scariest was when I was driving to California and had to urinate. It was early in my transition and I didn’t pass well. When I tried to leave the bathroom, a man blocked the door, kept pointing to the sign on the door, and shook his fist in my face. I figured I had a better chance of safety outside then inside the bathroom so I pushed past him and he let me go.

Chris said some people at a former job refused to use the restroom with him. He always has to think of safety and his ability to deal with ignorance and prejudice. So, he likes to control who knows and who doesn’t. I find it extremely upsetting that after spending all that time as a child not understanding his own identity, he still feels he has to hide it now. I asked him what one thing he’d like people to know?

I guess I would want people to know there is a very good chance they know or have known someone who was trans and didn’t realize it. So, we aren’t as different as people sometimes think.

If you’d like to learn more or have questions you’d like answered. You can contact the Ingersoll Gender Center in Seattle or find transgender facts and tips for allies here.

Thank you to Chris for being so open and answering all of my questions.

Comments

  1. Thanks for posting this story. It’s important to give Chris a world where he can live in safety, pursuing his life, liberty, and happiness. And it’s important to remind ourselves that we are on this planet for such a short time, so we should choose to be kind when we can.

  2. Great article!
    I’m happy SCOTUS made the right choice on this one. Life is hard enough as it is.

  3. Corinne M Alef says

    Thank you for writing this article Dana!

  4. Thank you Melissa and Chris. Chris is a wonderful human and has been a wonderful friend to my family. We love and support you!

  5. Great article! My wife and I met Chris in 2016. He is a great person and we both feel very fortunate to know him and know that he is happy. Like Stephen mentioned above, life on Earth is short in the grand scheme of things and we feel the measure of a person is in their deeds and not a place in a category. We are all humans trying to live, it’s difficult enough as it is so why place added difficulty to sections of the population. Glad the US Supreme Court took the stand it did.

  6. Thank you Chris,thank you Melissa. This article reminds me of how little we have progressed, how far we must go.
    “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ “

Speak Your Mind

*

%d bloggers like this: