I love dialogue. Not the dialogue you find in a movie or a book, but true life, in-person dialogue. Especially with someone who is willing to speak their mind, even if their opinions might be considered to be offensive. Recently I had some great conversations with a good friend, someone who just found out that I am transgender about a year ago. Yeah, that is what happens with trans people; We are who we are, and generally we have known who we are for a long time, yet we still feel that we cannot share who we are even with our best friends.
I’m so happy that I got over that fear and decided to speak honestly with this good friend, because she asked some great questions. The one that has stuck in my mind was something along the lines of, “So by being transgender, are you just like the vast majority of humans on this planet who do not like their bodies and wish that they could have something else?” The underlying questions I heard, the ones that went unspoken were, ”So then what is the big deal? Why are so many people making such a fuss? Why can’t you just go live your life like everyone else?”
I am not sure this is what my friend was thinking, or if it’s just the standard dialogue that I continually hear within my own head. But I do think that they are valid questions, specifically, how is being transgender any different from being a cisgender human who does not like their body?
There are many ways to explain the differences, which most transgender people would say are abundant and important but for the moment, let’s just go down this little rabbit hole and say that maybe there is no difference between the two. Maybe transgender people are just like cisgender people who want to just lose a little weight, or wish they had larger curves here or there, maybe wish for a smaller nose, or nicer teeth.
The vast majority of humans, male or female, that I have spoken to seem to think along these lines. It seems as though everybody wants to change something about their bodies. And I can see the similarities between trans and cis humans, and how so many of us struggle with body image issues.
But — and this is a huge but — have you actually looked around and seen the differences in the services offered to cis and trans humans trying to deal with their body image issues? I have. Especially recently. I have decided to take the step of getting professional advice in navigating my gender variance. This has resulted in me trying to find a therapist who specializes in gender variance as well as finding a physician who can help with hormone therapy. Eventually I found two people. One therapist and one doctor, both of whom are located two hours from my house. And I got lucky with them being willing to see me. They happen to be the only two who work with transgender humans in the entire San Joaquin Valley of California. That is an area stretching from Bakersfield to Sacramento comprising about four million people, making it more populous than about twenty four states in the US.
And gender specialists aren’t optional. I called my local general practitioner and asked for help with referrals to transgender health resources, and they never called me back. Could you imagine if a cis person called their doctor to ask for help losing weight and the doctor just never called back? But that kind of reaction is pretty standard for trans people. How about if you spoke to your doctor about quitting smoking and they told you that they don’t serve “your kind” or made a further inquiry to your sexual habits? Yeah, that happens as well.
What if I wanted to start exercising and decided to join a gym? In my area, a city of about 50,000 people, there are about nine different places I could sign up. I could also sign up to work with a personal trainer at any one of these locations, someone to guide me through the process of becoming fitter. But what I’d really love is a personal transgender trainer. To cis people, being transgender may appear on the surface to be pretty simple. Throw on the clothes of the opposite gender of your birth, and poof – you’re transgender. Now go face the world! Ha! In reality there are many people who wish for a mentor, someone who could work with them personally to figure out just how to express their gender variance; thus having a transgender trainer. They do actually exist, just not in the vast numbers that physical fitness trainers do. They teach people to wear makeup, chose clothes, find wigs, bind breasts, and other ways to express their gender.
What about if a cis gender person in my location wanted to have some elective surgeries? Being in rural California is not the same as being in Los Angeles where it seems as though there is a plastic surgery clinic on every corner, but still there actually is one in my town. If I travel just forty five minutes south to a bit larger city, there are many more options available for cosmetic surgeries. Billboards in that area actually advertise for body sculpting to help one achieve that perfect body. But they are not advertising to the trans community. Nope, it is for the cis community, specifically women who want a little extra removed from here or there and a little extra added to this spot or that spot. No matter how far I have traveled I have never seen a billboard advertising directly to the trans community. No facial feminization advertisements, no tracheal shaves, no gender confirmation surgeries. Places do exist, but again they are far and few between, and never advertised to the general public.
There is an obvious and often painful difference between what is offered to cis and trans humans. What about all of the items that exist in my local Target that help people with their body image issues? Like aisle after aisle of cosmetics, body shaping clothing like Spanx, an entire section dedicated to women’s excercise clothing, several rows of exercise equipment, even video after video of different exercise routines. But where is the transgender product aisle? Where are the gaffs, where are the binders? What about the prosthetics? What about the wigs? Where is the inexpensive makeup that actually covers a beard shadow? What about the makeup to give the appearance of a beard shadow? How about just one video that details how to go about expressing a gender variance?
Pondering these things has seriously made me laugh out loud. I have chuckled over and over as I took note of all the products and advertisements directed at cisgender humans in an attempt to help them with their bodies. The funny thing is picturing what it would look like if the exact same methods were used to assist the trans community. The thing is though, it is not all funny. Not having trans products and services readily available makes life difficult and makes many of us in the community feel even further ostracized. The real problem is the reason WHY these products and services aren’t marketed directly to us. And that reason is that a large percentage of the cisgender community thinks that trans people have serious mental health problems.
That is the real reason why goods and services that would help us with our body image issues aren’t made readily available. Heck, to even see the doctor I am going to see, I need a letter from my therapist recommending me for her services. Think about that for a moment, and think about how cis people might react to a similar barrier to treatment. You want to lose weight, but before the doctor agrees to help you get that gastric band placed, you have get a letter from a therapist stating that in their professional opinion you should be allowed to lose the weight. That would be ludicrous right? Well for trans people, it is standard, expected, and often non-negotiable.
If you can even find a doctor who is willing to provide hormone confirming therapy, WPATH standards recommend receiving a letter from a therapist first. That standard is becoming looser, but for surgical procedures it is not. To even be considered for surgical procedures, two letters from different therapists, one having a doctorate, are required by the surgeon, and recommended by WPATH. These are the requirements from the professionals who are even willing to treat transgender patients. Again, could you imagine a parallel happening to cis people? You try to join a gym and are told that you need to provide letters from therapists indicating that you are of sound mental health and in their opinion you should be allowed exercise.
As well, unfortunately for so many of us who go through all of these hoops to find our specific products and services and go to therapists to receive mental help we are still judged as having severe mental problems. We are ridiculed, and fired, and discriminated against in untold ways. Where is the cis gender analogue? You go to a dentist but your friends, family, coworkers, and strangers on the street all tell you that people are either born with good teeth or they aren’t, and there is no changing it? Then imagine them saying if you just don’t accept this, then you are clearly suffering from serious mental problems and need professional help. You receive the mental help, you go to the dentist, you begin to feel better about yourself, but now the people closest to you in your life, as well as total strangers, all secretly think that you are crazy!
Yeah, silly trans people! What is our issue? Seriously! Can’t we just stop already? Nope. We can’t. We can’t stop until there is actually some equity within our world. Progress is being made toward that equity, which is marvelous to see. These days when I come out to people they actually respond with a little vocabulary and knowledge. At least a little bit. And often that is enough to begin a dialogue that can give them more vocabulary, knowledge, and education. It is only through that education of the general public that we will ever win acceptance.
I like to think that my role in this is to help one person at a time. Yes, I love my online presence. I still feel highly honored to be able to write for Already Pretty, a vastly larger audience than my blog. But it is easy to dismiss humans online. Humans that you don’t personally know. So my job is to help educate the people in my world. My friends, family, coworkers, and even the average Joe on the street. I want them to know that I am transgender and that I am a real person and that we have real needs.
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Hi, I’m Nadine Spirit and I have been a lifelong gender non-conformer. I have always understood that I am a bit different than most but it was not until sometime in my thirties that I came to understand that I am transgender. While I spend most of my time presenting as a male I am always presenting in a gender non-conforming manner.
I started my blog, Unordinary Style, with the idea of being able to show a stylish side to those who identify as transgender. Since that time my blog has evolved into showing my personal style, discussing a wide variety of transgender topics, as well as posts about my personal life. My personal style continues to evolve as I attempt to continually push myself to pick stuff off of the racks, take it into the dressing room, and try on as much as I can. I am a firm believer in ignoring tag sizes, never paying retail prices, and due to a terrific allergy – that nickel should never be in any jewelry!