On this day two years ago, I came out as a trans woman at work, on social media, and basically to everyone I hadn’t already disclosed this to over the month or so since I had arrived at this epiphany for myself.
The last two years have been a paradox, and I know I am not alone in this: they have felt like the longest and some of the hardest years of my brief adult life, yet they have also been the happiest! For the record, not all of that hardship is due to the pandemic (though it has exacerbated all of it), just as not all of my joy is due to my transition. Nevertheless, as much as I will share some of the hard moments today, I want to focus on my joy. Because it says something about the power of transition, of embracing my true self, that it can provide even a sliver of silver lining to these difficult times.
’Tis the Damn Season
The pandemic has made the last two years feel like a long shadow cast by March 2020. As I noted in my first anniversary post, I feel like my transition has happened in no time at all. This is part of the paradox I noted earlier. In some ways, no time has passed. In other ways, a lot of time has gone by. My best friend was like, “How many years has it been?” and noted that she has trouble remembering what I was like in the before times.
I take this as a compliment because it shows how natural this transition has been for me. When I think about how much I have changed, the answer is, again paradoxically, a great deal but also not much at all. Yes, I have all these physical changes that are bringing me joy, and the way I relate to others has certainly changed somewhat too. I’m bubblier, more confident, more assertive. But the way I see it, this is the kind of growth that anyone would hope for in her thirties—it’s simply that, in my case, transition enabled that growth.
At my core, I have always been Kara, and so I am the same person I was before I transitioned even though I’m also not. I have the same best friends, the same job, same interests (just with a few additional ones, like shopping for clothes!). All that becoming Kara has done is taken away some of the restraint I felt before—either from a society that misperceived my gender or from myself as a result of that incongruence.
Becoming Kara means I’m free.
This has been a difficult winter. As the pandemic continued, Thunder Bay has been subjected to alternating bouts of brutal cold and superlative snow—for the last month or so, it felt like we were getting snowstorms once a week. My snowbanks are taller than I am, and my arms feel like they are going to fall off. Sapped of energy, I won’t lie: I have struggled. I have felt so, so isolated and alone.
The past two years have entailed joyful self-exploration and discovery. Yet, as I touched upon in last year’s post, I feel like there is one milestone I truly have yet to achieve, and that’s figuring out who Kara is in more casual social settings. I’ve got a handle on being Kara with my friends and Kara at work. There’s online Kara and grocery-store Kara too. But the combination of living in a smaller city, lockdowns and shutdowns and simply trying to be safe, has made it difficult for me to go out, meet new people, and be Kara in more general spaces. It’s getting to the point where even though I am introverted and not particularly outgoing, the idea of doing this excites me, and I am so, so eager to get out there.
It will come with time, I know. But it has been exhausting, feeling like I am standing still. Feeling like I am finally ready to be me, yet the spaces in which I can do so have become narrower than ever.
At the same time, it feels like elements hostile to trans people have been increasingly successful at making noise and finding their way into positions of power. This is true in the United Kingdom, where the media is almost reflexively transphobic; in the United States, where a startling number of state legislatures are trying to pass anti-trans laws from bathroom bills to sports bans for trans kids to declaring it child abuse to provide gender-affirming care; and it is true in Canada, where the transphobes are sometimes quieter but nevertheless present at our school board meetings and everywhere else in our society.
I have been quite lucky not to experience much overt transphobia in my daily life. I deal with a fair number of microaggressions and cissexism (I have talked about the latter before, but it’s usually in the form of erasure, as people around me replicate and reinforce the gender binary as if there isn’t a trans person right in front of you). There was this one uncomfortable incident driven by some person’s conviction that their fascination with my visibility was more important than my comfort, privacy, or personal space. But my privilege as a white trans person, and my age and social capital from having a good job, means that I have come through the first two years of my transition more easily than most. It sucks that I have to say that—would that this were the case for all trans people, for our transitions to be as unremarkable. But it isn’t, not yet.
I certainly didn’t expect to write so many blog posts about being trans and trans issues. I don’t really want to be an activist. Not only do I feel like I lack the experience to be authentic in that space, but at the end of the day, we trans people shouldn’t have to be activists when we just want to live our lives. Alas, teacher can’t stop teaching, so I have this insatiable desire always to educate and to use my talent for writing to express what I think is important.
All of this is to say, in my usual roundabout way, that even though I personally don’t feel all that marginalized, until trans people in general do not experience marginalization, I feel a duty to be a kind of ambassador. Once again I am a paradox, for while I want to move through the world unremarkably, I also need to get in your face, cis people, and remind you that you are the ones responsible for fighting transphobia, transmisogyny, cissexism. Just as it is not sufficient to be “not racist” but instead one must be actively antiracist, I will always implore my cis friends and allies to be not just “not transphobic” but actively anti-transphobic. You need to go beyond using the right pronouns for me and finding me unremarkable—that’s just the baseline—and show that you will fight for me, and more importantly for the trans kids whose lives are literally jeopardized by the legislation and broadcasting of hatred that is on the rise here and elsewhere.
Out of the Woods
Such exhortations probably would have been beyond me two years ago. My transition has helped me tap into my more assertive and forceful side. I feel confident. I have harnessed that fearlessness that I invoked to summarize my transition last year, and I have grown so much. This is evident in very tangible ways, like starting a new podcast. But it’s also just a part of who I am now. If the first year of my transition was full of uncertainty over what I was doing, the second year has been much smoother, and richer too.
There is a very affecting scene at the climax of Captain Marvel when Carol says, “I’ve been fighting with one arm behind my back. But what happens when … I’m finally set free?” And in that moment, she breaks the literal and figurative chains that have been holding her back and rises, unfettered, fully realizing her power.
I watched that movie in theatres a few months before I had my epiphany, and perhaps even then something in my subconscious knew what was up, for I really identified with Carol Danvers. That entire movie spoke to me. In hindsight, of course, it’s obvious why.
I spent the first thirty years of my life moving through the world with one hand tied behind my back. Society told me I was something I wasn’t (male) and did its best to keep me in that box, because if I were to step beyond it, then I would be a threat to the social order that patriarchy and white supremacy so carefully maintains. I believed this narrative too, because in my case the signs that belied it were subtle enough to be ignored for a long time.
Two years ago, I broke out of that box. It has been a journey, and it hasn’t always been easy. But it has been worth it. Transition is so much more than shoes and dresses, hormones and hair and makeup, pronouns and affirming language. It is all of that, yes, but it is also transcendence. It is finally feeling like the woman I’ve realized I have always been.
I don’t know where the rest of my life will take me any more than the rest of you do. What I do know is that I’ll be living that life as I am truly meant to be, my most bubbly and beautiful and bountiful self, all because two years ago I had the audacity to come out and set myself free. And while none of us can ever be happy all the time, I am happier more of the time as a result of it.