By: Deja Nicole Greenlaw*/TRT Columnist—
The title above is a partial quote from Laverne Cox. Her full quote, from her speech at University of Miami’s Diversity Week, states: “It took me a lot of years to fully internalize the fact that someone can tell that I am transgender and that is a beautiful thing—that being trans is beautiful and should be celebrated.” Thank you, Laverne!
I wholeheartedly agree with this quote, but some trans people may not. Many aren’t comfortable with being trans, and they will take issue when someone can tell they’re trans. It takes a long time internalizing to get to where Laverne is, and some trans folk never fully get to that point. What I’m speaking of is the full acknowledgment and acceptance of yourself as trans, and then celebrating that fact. It often takes a lot of work to get there.
Let’s start from the beginning. What usually happens when someone is trans is that at first, there is confusion, denial, shame, and guilt for wanting to be a gender other than the gender you were assigned at birth. In my case, I was born physically male, but I wanted to be female. I was terribly confused because I knew that I had to continue being a boy or there would be trouble. Still, my desire was to be a girl. When I wore my mother’s or sisters’ clothes, I felt a much needed relief and a wonderful feeling that this was totally right, but at the same time I also felt shame and guilt. After all, society teaches us that a boy is not a girl, and if I were to present as a girl in public, it could lead to taunting, ridicule, and possibly physical injury. Needless to say, I stayed deep in my closet.
I tried to deny my feelings. I would promise myself never to wear female clothing again, but every single time I had a chance, I was drawn to my secret female world. Off I went into a world that felt right even though society dictates it as wrong. I would just stand there looking at myself in the mirror wearing female clothing, and it felt so natural. It felt like home. Suddenly, I would hear a noise outside, a car coming in the driveway or a screen door open and the race was on to get out of the dress or whatever outfit I was wearing. Then I would feel shame and guilt, and I would promise to never, ever dress up again. It was a continuing love/hate cycle of dressing up and feeling bad about it. [pullquote]After a while, I stopped trying to be so feminine in every single way that I could think of and instead just concentrated on being me and enjoying my new life.[/pullquote]
My desire to be female followed me throughout my life, even though decades of marriage and raising three children. I stopped dressing up and went deeper into my closet, but the feelings never went away. Never.
It was the Taliban’s attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon that brought me to finally face my feelings of wanting to be female. I suddenly realized that I was getting older, and that at any time a religious extremist could take my life, and I would never, ever even have a chance to try to be my real self. Just the thought of going to my grave without ever experiencing life as female scared me into exploring my truths.
So, off I went into a world with therapists who really knew very little of trans people, and into support groups where the goal was “to pass” as a woman. The therapists and groups were laced with the old school idea of burying the fact that you were ever male and looking and acting as feminine as possible. It was hard for me. I was 6’ 3” tall, had a low voice, man hands, and my hairline was too high. It was a lot to deal with my physical shortcomings. I wanted to be a woman, and I began to hate being trans. I had developed internalized transphobia. [pullquote] It was hard for me. I was 6’ 3” tall, had a low voice, man hands, and my hairline was too high. It was a lot to deal with my physical shortcomings. I wanted to be a woman, and I began to hate being trans. I had developed internalized transphobia.[/pullquote]
After a while, I stopped trying to be so feminine in every single way that I could think of and instead just concentrated on being me and enjoying my new life. I soon found my smile, and I never lost it again. Slowly, it occurred to me that to find, accept and be yourself was the much larger goal. I discovered my inner beauty and began to celebrate being trans.
When I heard Laverne’s quote, it immediately resonated with me. The goal is not to pass as a woman; it is to be who you are and to celebrate it. After a lifetime of torment, confusion, shame, guilt, and denial, there is now clarity. I now acknowledge, accept, and celebrate who I really am. I got there, Laverne got there, and others have gotten there too.
How about you? Have you gotten there?
*Deja Nicole Greenlaw is a local transwoman who has three grown children and works at 3M. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.