***Trigger Warning - This article contains graphic language and imagery. If you are bothered by language of a mature sexual nature or pertaining to self-harm or mutilation, this article may be distressing for you.
You’ve no doubt heard about privilege at this point. In our society, it is considered to be the highest point of privilege to be a white, heterosexual, CIS (non-trans) male, as statistically this demographic holds the undeniable balance of societal power. This demographic, the most privileged, will never fully know, experience, and thus appreciate the hardships of less privileged, oppressed groups.
Privilege is not relegated only to race, or to sex, or to class. Privilege can come in many, many forms, and for trans identified individuals, privilege (or lack thereof) can come in surprising and heart breaking ways.
Take me for example. For 38 years I lived as and was considered a white, heterosexual, CIS American man. As such, I was afforded a great deal of privilege. I am college educated, I gained my master’s degree and moved into the career path of my choice, I am by no means rich but I have never even flirted with poverty. Beyond the obvious, I have never to my knowledge been racially profiled. In 38 years I never walked through a crowded bar and felt leering eyes move over my body with insidious intent. I never worried for my safety or considered rape a threat to me as I walked through night time parking lots to my vehicle. I was never imprisoned for insignificant charges.
Now, through the lense of my trans experience, I was certainly underprivileged in many ways. I never knew what it was like to simply feel comfortable with the body I was assigned. I never got to look into a mirror and feel genuinely good about what I was seeing. I never got to walk into any clothing store and move naturally into the department that most closely matched my gender experience and desire. I never got to show the full range of emotion and affection that often bubbled right below the surface of my psyche, as I knew that society dictated otherwise.
These are the invisible struggles of someone in my position. In no way am I speaking on behalf of all, or even any other trans individual or their personal experience with the internal or outside worlds. But a universal truth across the spectrum of trans people is the lack of privilege to simply find solace, pleasure, or enjoyment in simply being what the world tells us we are supposed to be. This is not perceived by the unknowing eye, and only enters the public consciousness when we are brave enough to share these experiences with others.
Making that choice is often impossibly difficult. Many people NEVER make that choice. The stakes are simply too high – family disownership, social isolation, emotional or physical abuse, even murder are all possible. The fear is deep and enormous and visceral. We are trained to be afraid to be our true selves.
So as an individual trans person, I choose to share my truth with you now. As if in a psychic sling shot, I was pulled further and further back into the dark recesses of my depression and self-loathing until the tension was unbearable, and finally I snapped in the opposite direction. As if shot out of a cannon, I have been flying in the right direction with a speed and sense of purpose unlike anything I’d ever experienced in 38 years of not-quite-living. Of sort-of-existing. Of putting on the never ending performance that might have satisfied everyone else I encountered to some degree, but did the exact opposite for me and my emotional well-being.
I was discussing a song by the artist Peaches today with a friend. Peaches sings a song about vaginoplasty, where she implores women (as if only women have vaginas) to be okay with what they have and not feel a need to cosmetically enhance their vaginas. We realized immediately that this song was inherently presented from a privileged perspective, because for a person like myself who has wished since age 5-6 that my “outie” could be replaced with an “innie”, my internal discussion has never been about the aesthetics of my vagina, but about the desperation I’ve felt to have one period. That desperation led to me standing over a cutting board on several occasions as a child, tears on my cheeks and either a butcher knife or meat cleaver in my hand, just trying to find the courage to finally take a step towards authenticating my existence in some physical way. Don’t talk to me about being “alright with what you’ve got” when you don’t know the depths to which dissatisfaction with physical self can truly go. And it does go very, very deep for some of us.
I cried off and on for weeks when it occurred to me that I not only wanted to be a mother, but would love more than anything to experience the magic of creating life inside my womb. Earlier in life I swore that I never wanted to have kids, and through the only lense I had at the time that was true. I now know that I never wanted to be a FATHER, but want more than anything to be a mother. And in my reality as a trans woman, that will never be a scientifically realistic possibility. Sure, I can adopt as CIS women do every single day. There is no shortage of children who need good homes, and I have every faith that my partner and I will someday provide an amazing life for our children.
But those children will never, ever come out of me. I cannot generate life in that way. I do not enjoy the privilege, or even the privileged possibility, of having that as an option.
And someday I hope to have the financial and medical means to replace my “outie” with an “innie”, and to finally experience something approximating the sexual experience I’ve always wished I could have in my life. Maybe that day will come, and maybe it won’t. Maybe my surgery will be a success, and maybe it will not. Maybe I will survive that process, and maybe I will not. Many do, some do not.
Being born CIS comes with all sorts of pitfalls, and no two lives are exactly alike. We shouldn’t live in comparisons or competition, but undoubtedly some folks have an easier time of it than others. All told, I enjoy my life very much and even in my hardest moments I am nothing but grateful for the opportunity to finally live as honestly as I can. My life is full of love and wonder, and I feel blessed.
Simultaneously, my life is tragic in that my true self will never fully be reflected by the biological reality that would match my existence, and because of that there will always be small corners of my heart that do not get to bask in the warming light of day. They will forever be locked up, forbidden from existing, and will serve as a reminder of what I’ve dealt with and where I came from.
If that doesn’t seem fathomable to you, congratulations. You are experiencing privilege.
Davison Nicholas, MA, LLPC, CAADC, MST-PSB is a transgender woman and mental health clinician in Kalamazoo and Berrien counties. She is co-founder and co-organizer of UNIFIED, a performance art collective focusing on social justice and education. Davison is a musician, published author, facilitator for the Battle Creek PRIDE transgender support group, co-organizer and presenter at 2014 National Transgender Day of Remembrance events in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, activist, ardent supporter of #BLM, and general bad ass
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