Dear Lesbians: How to Be a Good Ally to Trans Friends and Family

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Dear Lesbians,

Be nice, or we’re leaving and taking the bisexuals with us.

I’ve decided NOT to write this on behalf of all trans people. I think there are serious problems with that. But I can tell you as a recently-out trans person what my experience has been like while embracing masculinity in a feminized body.

For 10 years I was a radical lesbian feminist—one of the few in my small, rural town. During this time, I often advocated for bisexual visibility since I consistently dated bisexuals. At that point in time (arguably still prevalent today), our culture didn’t give bisexuality the space and recognition it deserved as a queer identity. I witnessed partner after partner experience biphobia in the queer community, but I had my plaid partition of queer safety protecting me from feeling the real pain they must’ve been going through. The critiques were unimaginative and tired—bisexuality is not a real identity, you’re just going through something, you should call yourself a lesbian because you’re dating a woman now. I’ll admit that I even fed this paranoia from time to time, questioning if I would be left for a man. Only now, during my cross-boundary state of identity, do I realize what my partners might have felt. Exclusion. Rejection. Invisibility or Hypervisibility. 

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For my friends who want to be allies, here is a list of things we can assume and work through:

1. My transition feels weird to you. I know that. You know that. We don’t have to say that out loud. I feel like I’m on display. And, presumably, you feel like I’m in costume. You’re not wrong. I am in costume. But I’m happy to finally play a role that I feel fits me. It makes up for that time in fifth grade when I begged to play Peter Pan and my excitement was diverted, my one hope smothered in glitter as I dawned Tinkerbell’s garb. The same way that you get up and do the work of being either gender, or neither, I do work of being in this body—this meat shell.

2. I’m sorry I killed your friend. Since coming out (again), I can’t tell you how many people have said: “I’m grieving. I just need time. It’s like the Amanda I know has died.”

Hmmm. I get it, but it makes me feel like a monster. I understand that when you look at me now, you see someone else. But you weren’t friends with my vagina (okay, some of you were). Anyway, I’m sorry that some of the days of Amanda are dead. The eyeliner is dead. The cleavage—totally strangled. But that’s about it. And let’s say I did actually kill her, let’s assume I straight up axed this lady friend of yours, I’m offering you something in exchange. I’m giving you the opportunity to know someone who is exactly like her except less depressed and anxious, someone who is finally ready (quite late in life, I might add) to work on being emotionally available. I guess I’m asking that you see past the squarer jaw line or body hair and recognize that the person you love is still in here.

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On this note…

3. Please don’t erase my history. I get that some trans folks really want to distance themselves from their former identities. They felt oppressed and trapped. Life was a struggle. I can relate. Yes, I wish I could have hit a switch at 14 and looked like David Beckham and never went back. But that didn’t happen. I lived a very real, very difficult and sometimes rewarding, existence as a woman. Personally, I don’t need to forget that in order to find happiness now. You don’t need to forget that. In fact, I actually need you to remember that when you start talking about how I don’t deserve space in your community anymore. I identified as a lesbian for more years than I’ve identified as anything else. I need you to recognize your power. You’re the gatekeeper to what is (inarguably) the greatest unicorn, sparkle, orgasm, happy feels land.

For a minute, I want you to imagine showing up to the only house you’ve known and realizing that the locks have been changed. That’s how it feels for me these days. Worse than that, when you talk about how this is a community for lesbians and that I’m a man, it’s like you’re pissing on me from the window of a house I helped build. The truth is, at this point in my life, I don’t feel comfortable identifying as lesbian, or as a man. Where would you like me to live? You fear that I will take up space the same way that men take up space in every avenue of your existence—on the bus, in the board meeting, or having to listen to the barista mansplain politics. Remember that as a female socialized person, I lived through that type of behavior and continue to rally back against it every day. I won’t do that to you. I will be hyper-aware of how I speak, act, and move in your realm.

So please, invite me to things. I still love The L Word marathons. I still get off on vegan potlucks, etc. etc.

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4. You’re going to call me the wrong name and pronoun. Of course you are. Stumble. Choke. Laugh. Curse about it. But try harder the next time. I don’t think I should be required to grow a beard in order for you to nail it. Also, Please don’t call me “you” because you’re afraid to fuck it up. Youuuuuuu is that random person at every party whose name becomes a professional puzzle in your life that you just can’t figure out.

5. Be patient. You know how first-time pregnant friends can’t talk about anything other than being pregnant? This is my baby. My little gender queer identity baby. I’m going to talk about my transition a lot. Currently, I’m starving all the time and want to hump the world. None of my wardrobe is suitable. And I have to learn how to shave my face soon. People look at me with pity: Sorry, you’re doing that to your body. Sit on it, sir. It’s my body. I’ll do what I want. This process is wildly exhausting but not a burdensome way. It’s just new to me. Even Google can’t calm my irrational thoughts and worries. Friends do that. So hear me out.

I opened this essay by scolding you. To be fair, most of the queer, cis-women in my life have stepped up. Being nice to my face is one thing. I’ve seen a lot of lesbians say sweet inclusive things to bisexuals in my day, only to talk shit about them behind their back. Can we agree that it’s time to stop bringing each other down? Not because we’re “naturally born” women and thereby supposed to love and accept everyone. That’s bullshit. We should stop doing it because we’re queer.

By being queer, we acknowledge that we are already outside the norm. We live in a queer community that says it speaks for everyone but then forgets the intersections of our identities; forgets the BTQIA2 portion of its queer acronym soup. We live in a queer community that forgets how race, class, bodies, and abilities interlock to form a barrier that bends to disappear some of us. Let’s stop bringing each other down so that we can start mobilizing our resistance. As bell hooks said, “I was not speaking of a marginality one wishes to lose, to give up, or surrender, as part of moving into the center, but rather as a site one stays in, clings to even, because it encourages one’s capacity to resist.”

Let’s resist together.

Follow A.R. on Twitter and Tumblr.

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