Last week, I had the pleasure of spending four days in Chicago with a dear friend of mine. During our time together, we went to a program at DePaul University where CeCe McDonald and Monica James were speaking about radical coalition-building, unlearning body shame, and loving ourselves and each other as trans* and queer people. I was on the verge of tears/was crying the entire time CeCe and Monica talked. However, my tears weren't because I was sad in the traditional sense, but moreso because I had just begun to realize all of the ways in which I have ingested and enacted transphobic messages on my own self. For example, I have been taught (as we all have) that trans* people will always be lonely and are undeserving of love (Diamond, 2011); that trans* people lead tragic lives and are deceptive people (e.g., Serano, 2007); and that I am never "trans* enough," particularly because people often misgender me...which I have often misinterpreted as somehow being my fault.
Yes, I get how messed up this all is. And I get how irrational and how untrue it is on an intellectual level. And yet...I still struggle to unlearn these messages, which have been taught to me over and over again throughout my 32 years of life, and are hard to let go of. What's worse, I totally do not believe these about the other trans* people in my life...but I cannot seem to turn that positive affirmation and love for my trans* kin inward toward my own trans* self. So instead of loving myself like I love my trans* kin, I have often spiraled into secret shame circles where I retreat and question all sorts of negative things regarding my trans* identity.
During their talk, Monica and CeCe both addressed this very point. First, CeCe shared that "our transitions are our own stories," which means that who we are as trans* people is not for anyone else to determine. CeCe then gave the audience a homework assignment. She said, "I don't care if you live alone, or if you have roommates, or if you live with your momma. Go home and take off all your clothes and look in the mirror and love yourself. Love every inch of your body. Every lump, every bulge, every bit of yourself." Monica followed up on this, telling an incredibly personal story about how she has to continually unlearn the garbage she has been taught from the media about what it means to be a Black trans* woman. Hearing her talk about this, I thought, "Yes. I have the same garbage to sift through, and I need to do this work on a continual basis, too." Although some days are better than other, I, too, struggle with the messages I have been taught about being ugly and carry intense internalized shame around my trans* identity. It's not because I believe it, or because I want to, but because I have been taught to think this way for so long, and despite my wanting it to, it will not go away overnight.
I left Chicago feeling renewed and rejuvenated. When I got home, I tweeted out that I was no longer going to let my own internalized body shame get the better of me.
Although a tweet doesn't change things overnight either, I have tried to keep to my own word. Whenever I find myself looking down at my body and thinking, "Ugh, if only I lost five pounds," or I look in the mirror and think, "If only I didn't have all this gross facial hair," or I lament that I am just not "trans* enough" (as if that is actually a thing rather than a manifestation of internalized transphobia and a way for me to police and shame my own trans* identity), I have stopped (literally and figuratively) and have corrected myself (literally and figuratively). "No, you don't need to lose five pounds, boo. You're beautiful," or, "Bae, for real -- you like your beard. Get your life!," or, "Dang, grrl, what does that phrase even mean?!"
These interventions have become critical for me to sift through and rid myself of the garbage of trans* body shaming and internalized transphobia. No, a tweet isn't a panacea, but I have begun to unlearn how transphobia is bottled, how I have bought it, and how I have used it against myself to the point where I have continued deep pain and harm. And it's time for that to stop. It's not going to be an easy journey, but it is a necessary one; one that I have been very fortunate to be on with my other trans* kin, who have been amazing at supporting me throughout it all. I am also fortunate to have some incredible queer cis people in my life who get me on a deep level, and who have also been fabulous in giving me space to vent and unload, after which they help me pick up the pieces and put myself back together, reminding me all the way that I need to be kind, gentle, and loving with myself.
I was reminded of this commitment to myself when I was reading an interview that Che and Reina Gossett did for Mask. In the interview, Reina (who is an amazing, radical, and prophetic trans* woman of color who I deeply admire...and who may get me to finally create an Instagram account just so I can follow her) stated, "We ourselves are the intervention. Living our lives are interventions."
What Reina meant by this (I think) was that we ourselves are enough. That we don't need to do anything more than be who we are, and that being who we are is extraordinary and life-changing. Reina's words, along with the love and support of my trans* and queer kin, and my own interventions to resist, deconstruct, and unlearn my own internalized transphobia have all given me the ability to recognize in myself what I have always known to be true for my trans* kin: we are all enough, each of us individually and collectively as a group. We are all the intervention of infusing the extraordinary into the world, each of us individually and collectively as a group. Living our lives is indeed a beautiful, magical gift, each of us individually and collectively as a group.
This blog is a space where I share my thoughts on trans*-related issues. I also will share my own research as it develops, including papers, presentations, and the development of my dissertation study with trans* college students.