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A friend of mine recently suggested I write about giving up on her gender transition and settling for, presumably, an unhappy life. I told her in reply that this was simply not something I could write about. It's not that there aren't such situations, mind you – some have had to delay transitions, and I've known a few who transitioned and felt the need to return to their gender, preferring life in their birth gender over the challenges and pitfalls of transition.
The reason I did not feel I could fulfill her request is simple. Even in the darkest moments, I feel that there is hope.
When I was a child, I decided there was no way I could ever be open enough about my own gender issues to even start down such a path. It simply was not an option for a poor kid in a poor neighborhood. I knew my parents would not approve, that I would likely be kicked out of their house, and I would not have many opportunities for basic survival, let alone a transition. I may well have been right at that time, too.
But not dealing with this was all the more difficult. I learned to sublimate my feelings, learned to live with the despair and pain. In the end, I lost a decade or so of my life, coupled with a lot of otherwise damaging habits.
Since coming out, I have met transgender people who have overcome odds far greater than any I imagined as a kid. Many did indeed end up on the street – and survived. Many seem to have decided that there was nowhere else to go but up, and nothing left to lose in the process.
In my years, I've heard from many eying a gender transition. Many had reasons why they would not be able to do so. They're too poor, too ugly, too old, would lose too much, whatever. At the same time, I know many others who did transition who overcame abject poverty, appearance issues, the specter of old age, and other obstacles. One could argue, then, that the only thing holding a person back is one's self.
Likewise, not everyone chooses to transition. Indeed, if one does not feel the overwhelming need to, then maybe it's best not to. Our world is slowly becoming all the more tolerant of gender beyond the simple binary system, and people have occupied gendered spaces of their own choosing and desire for decades – perhaps centuries. Indeed, I am highly encouraged to live in a time when one does not need to go through surgery to be a part of their preferred gender, and when one can do what they wish to step away from such constructs altogether.
Things have changed dramatically over the last several decades, and largely in favor of transgender people. We've gone from the days when a person could be arrested for not wearing enough of the clothing of their birth gender to a time when a growing number of states have at least some form of transgender protections. While we still see poor representations of transgender people in the media, the popularity of such have waned. Perfection, no – but a far cry from where things were.
I first got involved with transgender activism in 1993. At that time, a number of us starry-eyed activists tried to imagine what changes we might see in our lifetimes. In the 17 years since then, our wildest imaginings have come and gone, leaving us in untouched territories. I cannot help but hope – even expect – that things will continue to change for the better, and what is "pie in the sky" now will be surpassed in the next decade and a half. If we keep hope in our hearts, and continue forward.
Transitions are by their very nature times of movement. Sometimes that movement is impossibly slow, and sometimes-painful realities can stand in the way of rapid fulfillment. From my own experience, I understand that frustration. It can be very tempting to just throw up the white flag and give up when the odds seem stacked against you. Despair is seductively easy.
If anything though, I think that despairing – let alone "giving up" and "settling" – is our biggest enemy. Transgender people as a whole often have to find a way to speak their truth in a world where those closest to us are just as likely to call us deluded or worse.
Those who stand against us would love nothing more for all of us to give up. We are mocked and belittled by those who would see to bully us into submission. We're "re-gendered" by people desiring to fit our lives into their own narratives. In the worst-case scenarios we are all but erased from existence. Families claim the bodies of their transgender relatives, and strip away their gender preferences, making them something in death they never desired in life.
It is up to us and those who care about us to stand up for what we believe in – and number one is that the only person who gets a say in our genders is ourselves.
So no, I am not going to write about giving up. Perhaps I watched one too many Hollywood movies in my time, where you either succeed through perseverance or go out in a blaze of glory. I just cannot believe in giving up when there's still a chance – no matter how small it seems – to succeed.
Gwen Smith believes that Harvey Milk was right. You can find her online at www.gwensmith.com.