So as I have been wracking my brain for what this third chapter of trans-advent is going to look like there has been a single thought that keeps coming to me, and that is that I have had a wonderfully rich experience working with today’s transgender youth. Sad as it may seem I definitely cannot count myself among the trans* youth. I can’t even really count myself as a trans* millennial, not that I’m all-too-eager to take on the social stigma that comes with that label. No, I am in the strange place that exists between the older transgender generation that fought for their lives to break down almost insurmountable walls and the younger trans*, gender non-conforming, queer, non-binary etc. generation that grew up in a world filled with walls already partially torn down. Don’t get me wrong they still have walls to tear down and barriers to overcome, but thanks to the work of the older generation their walls are a lot shorter and it is enormously safer for them to exist in the world (still not safe enough). They can turn on the TV, or YouTube and see world famous transgender icons. My forbearers were lucky if they saw a drag queen on television, let alone someone as famous or well-revered as Laverne Cox.
Right in the middle of all of that is where I lie. I’m not a first or even second wave trans* person, but I’m not one of the queer youth either. I exist in a place that has the duty and sometimes unfortunate burden of trying to bridge the gap between the two major trans* movements. I’m a full-fledged adult working on her second career while at the same time only being in her 3rd year of transition. I have one foot in the realm of the older generation who spent much of their lives living as their assigned gender, only to realize later in life that they were ready to part ways with it. I have the other foot amongst the youth who’ve grown up almost always knowing famous transgender people like Caitlyn Jenner (love her or hate her, she’s made herself an icon). I have one foot with the generation that had to fight tooth and nail to find hormones, quite often having to self-medicate because no doctor would prescribe them and no insurance would pay for them. I have another foot with the generation who have entire clinics dedicated to helping them transition genders and who have a large number of researchers all around the world finding better and better ways to assist in gender transition. This younger generation also has the freedom (despite often being bullied for exercising it) to exist outside the gender binary and live a life true to themselves without the desire for HRT. That kind of freedom was rarely exercised by my forbearers because in their world it was still a great deal about being one or the other.
All of this being said, I find myself in a somewhat unique position of having something of the mentality of my forbearers while at the same time having access to some of the opportunities of today’s queer youth. While I will never have the opportunity to take hormone blockers to stop puberty or to start estrogen before my 20’s, thereby increasing the effectiveness of it, I do have the opportunity to live in a world where existing outside the binary is a feasible possibility. While I lived what feels like an entire life as my assigned gender, I have enough of my youthfulness left to truly create another life. That’s not to say that the older generation of transgender people don’t have valid or meaningful lives. I’m simply saying that I’m young enough to still start a new life as if I was freshly out of high school or college. Sure, maybe I lost out on about 5 years of my life by not choosing to transition earlier but I didn’t wait so long that I was already at or beyond midlife.
What this somewhat unique position has offered me is the opportunity to learn from the wisdom of the generations before and integrate it with the boundless youthfulness of the generation to come. And the marriage between wisdom and youthfulness is something I feel compelled to share with others. I hope to share this inbetween perspective for two reasons. First I wish to provide a roadmap for those that have come before to find the golden nuggets that today’s youth have uncovered, and second to help those who are part of the younger generation (let’s say 25 and under) to better appreciate where their freedoms come from so that they can utilize the tenacity of the former generations to push the conversation and social acceptance of people like us to the next level. The former generation tore down so many of the walls we see today in ruins that it would be foolish of us to not listen to how they did it. We have so many of our own walls to break down, for us and for them too.
So, let’s start with the youth and the lessons I have learned from them.
1. Be uncompromising about who you are. Today’s queer youth have one thing figured out and that it’s either accept them and their identities or get the fuck out. Non-binary, queer, genderqueer, bigender, agender, androgynous, etc. the list goes on and on but one things stays the same, they are who they say they are and if you don’t like it, it’s your problem not theirs. Now, I know how that can sound. Being uncompromising isn’t usually a positive trait but in this regard it really is. So much of the former generations compromised who they were, and for good reason. It wasn’t safe to say you were agender or genderqueer in 1985, at least not outside of queer spaces. That shit could and sometimes would get you killed. In order to stay safe, to stay alive, the former generations often had to make concessions that today’s youth simply don’t have to. They have been given a modicum of security in being able to be themselves and they have filled every inch of it beautifully. They recognized, almost assuredly without realizing it, that they had the chance to take up some space in the world and they’ve not only taken up that space but demanded more of it. That’s not to say they are singularly responsible for this shift. Their parents and people outside of the LGBTQ community that have gone to bat for them have made that possible as well. Without the allies they’d still be fighting yesteryear’s battles.
2. Love has no limits. While the previous generations expanded the idea of love beyond the heteronormative drivel the 1950’s shoved down our collective throats, they missed out on a wonderful opportunity that today’s youth are ceasing without abandon. In the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and even into the 2000’s the LGBTQ community was in no small part just the LG part of the acronym. Bisexuals were allowed in begrudgingly, the trans community was somewhat of a fringe afterthought, and those queer people… well they were just weird (love those queeirdos). And the rest of the acronym soup simply didn’t exist on their radars. Expanding love during those decades was about expanding gay and lesbian love, and once again for good reason. They knew that the hetero people weren’t going to let this gay stuff slide so easily so they had to pick their battles. Can you imagine trying to sell the idea of a transfeminine person marrying a non-binary person back in 1975? Throw in an ethnicity difference too and you might as well get ready to be booed off stage, figuratively speaking. Today’s youth, however, don’t have the same political clout to loving who they choose. Combining their uncompromising gender/sexual identities with the much more acceptable time diverse relationships and what you get is a menagerie of possible love outcomes. Black, queer, afab, and aromantic hooking up with a white, pansexual, transman? No problem, because love has no limits. And that’s the lesson to be learned from the youth is that they accept that love comes in unexpected ways, in unexpected places, and with unexpected people, so why limit yourself from the get-go with one of those archaic labels of straight, gay, or lesbian? Why even consider sexuality a fixed thing for the entirety of your life when maybe it will change tomorrow and the man/woman/trans*/etc. of your life could walk through the door without you even looking for them? With greater freedom of choice today’s youth have found greater avenues for pleasure, happiness, and love.
3. Visibility matters. A lesson today’s youth has to offer is the power of visibility. Every day more and more of them are choosing to live a visible life as their gender and/or sexuality. Obviously there are still places where to do this is a certain death sentence but those places are shrinking by the day and part of the reason they are shrinking is because today’s youth aren’t hiding their true colors. In fact, they are often revealing those true colors literally with unique hair colors, haircuts, piercings, and tattoos. Generations in the past would have never been so visible as today’s youth are (and for good reason, as it was far too dangerous to be that brazenly open most of the time). This lesson goes beyond simply choosing to be visible; it’s about taking up space and claiming their stake to it. Part of being uncompromising is that you have to be visible. You can’t be uncompromising if you are invisible because then no one knows what you are standing for. Today’s youth don’t just have subtle ways of standing out, they often have quite overt ways of doing it (as I mentioned before). It goes beyond simply having a piercing in the right place to flag themselves as LGBTQ, it’s become about creating a culture and a rich one at that. Yes they still do things to flag themselves as LGBTQ but it’s less about telling others they are down to fuck and more about telling society to go to hell with their bougie heteronormative clothing/hair/etc. styles. And the greatest lesson here is that the more visible they become, the more acceptance they garner. Again this wouldn’t be possible without the allies to our cause. They help keep us safe and tell the boring hetero people who don’t get it that it’s cool to be queer.
4. Their voices matter. This lesson isn’t as straightforward as it seems at first glance. The lesson is that they think their voices matter as much as they have learned the power of their stories. For as long as LGBTQ people have been fighting for their place at the collective table of modern society we have struggled with one thing in particular, and that’s the belief that our stories had power. Sure, many believed that their voices were important or that those who oppress our communities needed to hear them, but I believe it has only been in the last decade or so that we’ve realized the power of our stories. Take, for example, the show Will and Grace. That show was an enormous influence on the overall systemic shift in considering or accepting gay rights. In and of itself that show has many positives and many flaws which I won’t debate here, but the one thing it showed us was how powerful our stories, even fictional ones, could be. I think that this came as a surprise to many in the older generations. The idea that straight heteronormative people would be compelled and moved by our stories was somewhat of a foreign concept. Again, this was for good reason as this kind of media exposure was almost unheard of previously. The lesson today’s youth have to offer us is just how powerful those stories can be when we embody them ourselves. Will and Grace was a fictionalization of some token gay tropes and it had a huge effect. What the youth has come to realize is that their stories, about them, their love, their lives, their sexuality, and their gender has a 100 times the power of a fictional sitcom. Like Caitlyn Jenner or not, her story was a powerful one. Like Laverne Cox or not, her story was a powerful one. I could go on but what I’m driving at is that today’s youth have become so intimately familiar with how powerful their stories can be that they are using them to change minds every day, and are slowly changing the world.
So, the lessons they offer go something like this:
When you are uncompromising in your identity, you live your non-normative life visibly, and you love others without limits or prejudice, you find that your story becomes truly powerful.
Those are words to live by if I’ve ever heard them.
Well, that’s all for this entry. The next one will be looking at the other side of this coin. What are the lessons our forbearers have to teach us that today’s youth need to remember? Thanks for reading, and as always, remember that you are beautiful just the way you are.
(p.s. In case you want to see my gorgeous mug here is a recent picture. Yes, I have blue hair)