Transmissions: The trans body

  • by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
  • Wednesday May 17, 2023
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Illustration: Christine Smith
Illustration: Christine Smith

As overplayed a term as it is, we are living in what amounts to a modern day witch-hunt, with transgender people replacing women in pointy hats. Hundreds of bills have been introduced to ban us from sports, from bathrooms, from our body autonomy — and rip us away from our families and our health care providers.

Behind all of this are the lies, piled so thick as to create an impenetrable web of falsehoods. Trans women are painted as fetishistic predators, preying on women and girls in restrooms while conspiring to somehow abscond with all the prizes and fame available in women's sports. Trans men, meanwhile, are misguided waifs, preyed upon by the machinations of the medical establishment, forced into dangerous medications and surgeries.

Meantime, the actual accounts of transgender people are wholly discounted, replaced with fact-free anecdotes and ong-discounted papers such as the "Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria" study, which claimed that trans-ness was a "social contagion" caused by too much internet.

Nevertheless, our existence — however inconvenient this may be for those who seek to mandate transgender people out of this reality — continues.

As I write this, it is a warm spring evening. A light breeze swirls through the room, gliding across my back and arms as I sit at the keyboard in jeans and a cotton camisole. Music — in this case, Led Zeppelin's "The Rain Song" — is playing through my AirPods. I am in my mid-50s, and at this point, have lived more than half of my life post-transition.

I know that my experience is not the same as every transgender person, and I will make no claim as such. Just like they say in the auto commercials, one's mileage may vary.

That said, I know my experiences as a transgender woman share some commonalities with a great many others — and these similarities fly in the face of every lie put forth.

Many of us were sure there was something wrong from an early age. Some are able to express it, persisting in an identity from their youngest years. Others of us may search for years for why we simply do not fit. Most of us fall somewhere in between.

Myself, I knew from about age 3 that something wasn't right, but I did not really have the words for it until I was 8 or so. Even then, at that early age, I already understood there was a social stigma, and learned to keep quiet.

For many transgender people, puberty is a dark time. It feels as if our whole body is betraying us. We may have thought, up to that point, that we would somehow become that which we know we are, only to have our bodies twist another way.

Yes, if you have read this far, and are not trans yourself, imagine just how many layers of body horror we trans folks may be wading through when this happens: your very flesh is turning you into something that feels painfully, horribly wrong.

At the same time, unlike what some would like you to believe, we don't get to just decide with little consideration that we're an attack helicopter today, and go out and start sipping aviation fuel, to put a twist on an anti-transphobic trope used by many on the right to belittle pronoun preferences. For many of us, our paths are long, spent seeking answers, and sometimes denying our trans nature as long as we can. Even once we do come out, we still need to find our paths, locate care, and begin a sometimes-rigorous path of integrating into society as ourselves.

For many of us, that path is a lifetime — and we may transition, and detransition, and retransition — as we try to find what makes sense for ourselves. While it has absolutely been the correct path for me, I would not recommend it for just anyone. This isn't a path of impulse, per se, but one of necessity, and we don't go through all this to change our bodies, so much as to put or bodies — no, our very being — right.

Those who stand against transgender people will tell you that we're only doing this for some illicit gain, or because we were somehow hoodwinked into believing this was right for us, or even because we have a mental issue.

That speaks far more to them than it does to any transgender person. This is what it would take for them to transition, no doubt, but it has nothing to do with trans lives. They only see things in a limited fashion, and cannot imagine what it is like to live in a trans body.

Some will discuss how they were a tomboy as a child, or may have played with dolls or some such — and if this were them today, they surely would have been forced into a transition.

Respectfully, no, they would not have. No one is out there forcing anyone into transgender care. Frankly, most of us have to fight to get care as it is — no one is handing out trans care like candy. This is as much of a myth as, oh, the satanic panic of the 1980s, the 1938 "War of the Worlds" broadcast, or — to bring us back to the top — the Salem witch trials of the late 1600s.

A moral panic, by its very nature, is not logical, and urban legends are, nonetheless, legends. I can only ask that when you hear such tall tales of transgender lives that you might step back for the briefest moment, and consider that maybe, possibly, there is more to the story.

Trans people exist — and we're simply going to know a lot more about the bodies we inhabit.

Gwen Smith doesn't even own a pointy hat. You'll find her at

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