Wednesday, September 2, 2015

9-2-2015 Entry: First Week as a Trans* Grad Student


Hello my lovelies! Sorry it’s been a few days since I’ve checked in. Unfortunately today’s entry is probably going to be pretty short since I don’t have much time to write before obligation starts calling my name again.

This week I started school and it brought with it a few first-time-evers for me. This is the first time I can say, without technicality or reservation, that I am a graduate student!! Yay! It only took me 6 years after graduating my Bachelors to finally get to this place! I say the bit about technicality because I went back to school a few years ago to become a paralegal and it was a post-bachelor certificate offered through the graduate school but most of my classes were essentially undergraduate classes. So, I usually said I was in grad school when too much explanation wasn’t warranted, but inside I always felt a bit like I was being deceptive.

Now, however, I’m not being deceptive at all! I’m a grad student! In a couple years I will have a masters degree!! And, possibly eventually, I may decide to get a Ph.D. but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Dr. Emma does have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? ;)

Anyways, along with being a legit grad student for the first time, I also went to school as a woman (kind of; oh the technicalities, they do abound don’t they?) for the first time. This has been a rather interesting experience, especially considering that of the two classes I’m currently taking with about 50 students in the program, there is only 1 male and he is only in one of the classes.

 As an aside, he’s a minister, so I suspect some philosophical differences between us will emerge before the end. You know how God likes to keep things in a binary… only with gender though, everything else in nature is the “exception”. He does seems nice so far,  so I’m trying not to prejudge him too much, but that’s likely because he hasn’t had to interact with me directly. I’ll definitely let you know when that happens, as I’m certain it will be interesting.

Moving back to our topic at hand, I’ve finally experienced what it was like to go to school as a girl* and it’s been really nice. I’ve also experienced, pretty much for the first time, being outed (with my permission) to a group of people who likely had no idea I was transgender. The first class I had on Monday went pretty smoothly with regards to me being outed to others. I basically only told the instructor of the class, for roll call purposes, and the person I was partnered up with for one of the exercises. Everyone else thought I was a ciswoman, or at least didn’t seem to notice that I might not be.

The second class that I had yesterday, however, went very differently. Not only did I not get a chance to tell the professor about my name on her class list, but the first opportunity there was to introduce myself was done in an exercise that I didn’t get to control. Basically this is how it went down. We were supposed to partner up with someone sitting next to us to find out what they did this summer that was noteworthy and then to also find out what they would be doing if they weren’t in class tonight. After discussing that for a few minutes the exercise was for the person we worked with to introduce us to the class by telling them our name, what we did this summer and what we’d be doing if we weren’t in class. Are you seeing where this going yet?

If not, then let’s run through it real quick (just for fun, of course). What did Emma do this summer that was noteworthy? Hmmm… She went to Madison with her wife… maybe not so noteworthy even if it was a nice getaway. What else? Hmmm… she worked and went to therapy… probably still not all that noteworthy and honestly a bit too personal on the second half (social stigma in mental health as it is). What else? Oh! That’s right! Emma transitioned genders by going fulltime as a transwoman instead of a man! Yep, that’s definitely noteworthy!

So, yes, we’ve arrived at the moment when shit gets awkward. We’ve arrived at the crossroads that every trans* person arrives at, at least once in their life. That crossroads that goes: do I tell everyone I’m trans and live out and proud? Or do I allow them to keep guessing or believing I’m a ciswoman/man?

Thankfully my partner, who happened to be a sociable and nice lesbian (1000+ cool points for her in my book already) recognized the potential awkwardness that was going to come up when it came to our turn to introduce one another. She kindly asked if I wanted her to share that portion of our conversation with the entire class or to leave it out. I honestly answered Yes I was okay with her sharing it before I really thought about it or considered what it meant for me.

I think the fates have been kind to me in that I am relatively passable already after only 6 months of HRT. I would say 90% of the time when I’m in public people have no idea. When I told my lesbian class partner that I transitioned genders she seemed completely amazed, like she would have never guessed that I hadn’t always been a female. (BTW I know I don’t have to refer to her as a lesbian, she is much more than that, of course, but I love lesbians, so I’m using it as a term of endearment as I try to keep her identity anonymous). I honestly think most of my classmates also had no idea that I was trans*, so for my partner to tell them all that I was trans would likely create a huge difference in the perception that they had about me (because for some reason it does, even though it totally shouldn’t).

Up until this point, it had honestly been really rewarding and somewhat comforting for me to be seen as female. No one treated me differently, no one gave me the cold shoulder and no one stared at me unashamed of how rude they were being. No one misgendered me or called me by the wrong name/pronoun. No one saw me, likely without understanding what they were doing or why they were doing it, as inherently different than themselves. Once my lesbian class partner told everyone, however, that veil of “passing” would be torn away and I’d be seen as something other than female. Instead of being one with them, I would suddenly, almost imperceptibly, become an other.

So, after I told my partner that it was okay to share that piece of news about me, I started to feel really anxious. What if I didn’t want them to know? What if I wanted them to keep calling me Emma without question or curiosity? What would the repercussions of that decision be, both on myself and on my classmates?

Thinking about it now, a day later, I know that I made the right decision. I know that it was a good thing that my partner did, in fact, reveal to the entire class that I had transitioned genders this summer. It was a beneficial act, and a beneficial sacrifice on my part.

The selfish (and there is nothing wrong with being selfish in this regard, don’t get me wrong) thing to do would be to stay passable, to stay out of the sight of others, to continue to be perceived as a cisgender woman instead of being seen as trans*. The selfish (again, not bad) thing would have been to go through my whole program not really telling anyone at all so that none of them became aware of the fact that I was “different” than them. My own comfort would have been met had I not willingly been outed to all of them.

I could have done that. I’m passable enough that many of them would have likely never guessed anything was amiss, but I didn’t do that, and for several reasons. The first reason is that it would have been a disservice to them. I know you are probably thinking “huh?”

What I mean by that is that if they didn’t know they were being exposed to someone who contradicts their perceptions on the gender norms and gender expressions, they would go through their entire education living in the happy little binary bubble of delusion that there are only men and women. Our text books are written by cisgender individuals who categorize people into cisgender, binary, categories of men and women. The definition of gender in our text book was 100% binary-centric. Our professor, is cisgender and works primarily with cisgender individuals/families. Everyone in both of our classes is cisgender (except me).

Under such circumstances, were I to continue to present as a cis female, these people who are going to become therapists one day, would be robbed of the experience to see what non-binary and transgender can look like. They, despite my discomfort in being examined, are given the opportunity to learn about something that is not only very important, but also somewhat rare. Transgender people make up less than 1% of the human population, and transgender individuals working towards graduate degrees are also probably about 1% of grad students.

Their exposure to me, to my experiences, to my perspectives, to my understanding of something that can seem so mythical to some cisgender people, is truly a blessing to them. I know, I probably sound so full of myself right now but regardless of my ego, they are being presented with a very rare and unique experience to learn a great deal about what non-binary can look like. I will make it my mission to challenge their assumptions as much as possible when it comes to gender and gender expression. I will do everything I can to question their assumptions about sexuality as well. I am a lesbian transwoman married to a cisgender hetero woman and we’ve made it work, so I know a thing or two about the fluid nature of sexuality.

The next reason I decided to be outed was that it’s important for me to face my fears, and I was afraid to tell everyone I was trans*. The only way I will ever manage to feel confident in who I am and what I am capable of is to step into the spotlight and be seen for what I really am. I spent so many years hiding who I was because I was afraid to show what was inside. I spent so much of my life taking comfort in anonymity, but in order to grow and to become the things I want to be, I can’t be anonymous. I can’t be a background person and expect to make waves or foster change or growth in others. Perhaps if I was trying to foster different kinds of change and growth I could be anonymous, but as we’ve discussed so many times before, staying hidden in the trans* movement doesn’t really propel visibility or acceptance.

Lastly, I did it because I have a duty to live up to you and what you expect of me. That’s right, I thought about you, my darling reader, when I decided it was a good idea to be outed. How could I sit here, typing these words, doing all that I could to encourage you to push past your fears, your boundaries, and the expectations placed on you if I couldn’t do that myself? I refuse to be someone who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. I refuse to talk a big game but have nothing to back it up. If I can be brave and succeed as a result of that bravery, how much more likely are you to follow in my footsteps? How likely are you to be convinced by me to stop hiding who you are or to stop allowing others to tell you who you are if I can’t even do it myself?

I have asserted time and again that I didn’t come to change the world, I came to rock it, and if I hadn’t willingly been outed in front of 30 strangers because I’d shrunk back in fear, those words would just be that, words. People may say all kinds of things about me, but I refuse to give anyone the opportunity to say that I’m not true to my word. If I say I’m going to do something, then I’m going to do it dammit, or I’m going to try and try again until I either succeed or my continued failure opens the door to another avenue of success (which happens often actually).

Well, that’s all I have today. I have another entry I’ve been working on but just haven’t had time to finish. I’ll try to post it sometime this week.

Thanks for stopping by and always remember, the only person who really knows who you are, is you. Never let anyone else tell you who you are supposed to be, because they have no idea what they are talking about (chances are, they have no idea who they even are themselves).

Much love for all of you,

-Emma

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