"Imagine being unable to pass a mirror without the image you see there causing you deep distress and pain."
Throughout transition I’ve been surprised by the tenderness and, at times, tentativeness with which those friends and colleagues unfamiliar with transgender issues approached the subject. At my most self-conscious I wondered if such overt care could be a response to the misconception that transgender people are emotionally volatile. Or perhaps, I thought, they worried about unknowingly saying the wrong thing and causing offense. Often transgender people seem a total mystery to the majority of the population. Our very existence appears to challenge what has long been considered a basic truth of human experience: our genitalia defines each of us as male or female. But the relationship between sex and gender is extremely complicated. In actuality, gender is a spectrum, and it is entirely possible for a person’s gender to not match their assigned sex at birth. The result of this mismatch between brain and body is often gender dysphoria, which can have devastating effects on a transgender person’s life.
Imagine having never recognized your face in a mirror. Imagine entering puberty hoping to develop as female/male, and the absolutely disorienting reality of inhabiting a body that does not match. Imagine vocalizing the trauma of your experience to parents and teachers, perhaps even doctors, and likely being met with skepticism and scorn. Imagine growing into early adulthood, irreparable harm having been done to your body through puberty, or if you are very lucky, having had the opportunity to delay adolescence through medical intervention, until you are old enough to be taken more seriously. Imagine being unable to pass a mirror without the image you see there causing you deep distress and pain. Imagine the alienation you would face in personal relationships and friendships, in all social settings, as you constantly cope with and contain the disconnect you feel. Imagine finally starting transition, beginning to experience what others describe as normalcy, and being asked by family and friends: Why can’t you just be happy with the body you have? Imagine being so highly visible in your daily life that every grocery store and gas station, every post office and school, every restaurant and office building you enter, you are met with long stares as people try to figure out what you are. Imagine staring into a mirror, awestruck in those the first moments of self-recognition. Imagine then the questions that flood your life from every corner: What’s your real name? Which bathroom do you use? Will you have surgery to change your genitals? Will you have your breasts removed/augmented? What will you tell future partners about your past? When will you tell? How will you explain that you used to be a boy/girl, you know – before the change or transition or whatever it’s called? // Jordan Rice
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