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Transmissions: A walk in my shoes

by Gwendolyn Ann Smith

Illustration: Christine Smith
Illustration: Christine Smith  

It is a new year: a chance to start with a clean slate, of course. With this in mind, I want to get back to basics for a moment and discuss something that may be useful for those who might read this column and not have an intimate knowledge of what it means to be transgender.

You see, I've talked before about one of the big troubles with how non-transgender people perceive transgender lives. Because they themselves are not transgender, they cannot comprehend why we do the things we do.

As a result, you'll see expectations that transgender people are only transitioning to gain some sort of advantage. This is at the heart of every argument about transgender restroom and locker room use, with people assuming transgender women only want easy access to such facilities in order to sexually assault other women.

The best example that comes to mind about this is from the right-wing former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, who explained how he might have attempted to ogle teen girls in the showers in his high school years.

"Now I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in P.E.," said Huckabee at the 2015 National Religious Broadcasters' Convention in Nashville, Tennessee. "I'm pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, 'Coach, I think I'd rather shower with the girls today.'"

I suppose now might be a good time to note Huckabee's freeing of convicted rapist Wayne DuMond early in his governorship, as well as his standing behind convicted pedophile Josh Duggar.

Huckabee isn't alone in these views. Consider the long history of gender-themed sitcoms and movies, like "Some Like It Hot" and others. The long-standing trope of these is that a person — usually someone both male-bodied and male-identified — disguises themselves as a woman in order to gain some sort of contrived advantage.

This seems to be a deeply ingrained viewpoint, and one that doesn't reflect reality for transgender people.

You will find this same argument in the news today around transgender people competing in women's sports, for example University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas — and even in Amy Schneider's incredible success on "Jeopardy!," raking in over $1 million on the popular quiz show.

I'm not exactly sure what special advantage people seem to think Schneider is gaining by being a trans woman, beyond any born out of misogynistic beliefs about male superiority. Perhaps next, these same people will argue that Michaela Jaé Rodriguez has a similar advantage in being the first trans actress to win a Golden Globe for her work on "Pose."

The arguments aren't all about transgender people seeking to deceive to gain an advantage, however. The other side of the coin is that we are somehow being deceived into transition. This one seems to be far more commonly used against transmasculine people, with claims that they are suffering from internalized homophobia, or have otherwise been somehow deluded into believing themselves transgender.

This argument would be laughable if it wasn't so infuriating. As the old television commercial said, "that's not how any of this works." Being transgender is hardly any easier than being gay or lesbian, and one can certainly be both. Likewise, we don't easily enter into a decision to transition, and certainly not as some sort of self-deception. In this world, we as transgender people are challenged, not encouraged.

I feel like these beliefs about why transgender people do what they do stem from a simple core misunderstanding. Not being transgender, some people cannot easily understand why someone like themselves would change their gender, and have to come up with these notions so they can understand it for themselves. Take Huckabee, who can only picture transition in how he might have used it to sneak into the women's locker room. Likewise, the arguments about sports advantages, or even the notion of somehow escaping homophobia by transitioning.

The thing is, transgender people are also not attempting to change their gender — at least not in the way the majority of non-transgender people are viewing it.

If you are not transgender, and that last sentence confused you, then let's try a quick thought experiment. Think of yourself as you are at this moment: same body, same friends, same expectations as always. Yet, at the same time, you know at the core of your being that you are a different gender from all that. You likely have always felt that: it is at the center of who you are.

It's not that you want to become something you are not; it is about accurately presenting who you are.

Maybe you have tried to express that to others, only to be laughed at, at best. Maybe you were shunned by your family. Maybe a friend or partner assaulted you as a result. Maybe you have turned to self-hate to try and make sense of it all. Yet those feelings persevere, day in and day out, for years.

How would you feel about this? Would you be willing to remain as you are today, even though you know that you will always feel a level of discomfort about who and what you are?

This is what being transgender is like. We don't transition for an advantage. Heck, maybe "transition" itself isn't even the right word. We take steps to express who we are and help you, the non-transgender person, understand who we are.

That is our reality.

Gwen Smith wears a size 13 women's shoe, which is absolutely hard as heck to find. You'll find her at www.gwensmith.com


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