In many ways, the month of June is divided into two separate events. The Pride we see in department stores and alcohol commercials is the commodification and sterilization of generational queer perseverance and strength. It’s become the gay best friend holiday that normative society makes out with at parties without understanding the oppression that gets covered up by rainbows, unicorns, and Village People songs.
Don’t get me wrong, I could “YMCA” on the dance floor until I’m blue in the face, but real life isn’t Footloose: political change won’t happen if all we do is shake our tail feathers.
Despite the current administration’s support of LGBTQIA+ identities, there’s still so much work to be done (both domestically and abroad). We’ve made incredible strides in the 52 years since Stonewall, including marriage equality, greater protections in health care, and broader representation in the media. That being said, 2021 has been the most violent year against gender diverse people in recorded history (both physically and legally). LGBTQIA+ people still experience mental health concerns, suicidality, and homelessness at disproportionate rates compared to our cis-het peers. And despite understanding the pain of discrimination, many people within the queer community are still hesitant to support other marginalized folx or understand how intersectional identities contribute to or diminish individuals’ privileges.
The other Pride isn’t near as glamorous as parades, drag queen performances, and glitter bombs. It’s radical, revolutionary, and sashays with purpose.
It’s the forgotten names of LGBTQIA+ folx who were forced into concentration camps and experimented on during the Holocaust. It’s the queer people who were made scapegoats by McCarthyism, religious fervor, and medical and mental health zealots. It’s every person who has been forced into conversion therapy and every person who has had the privilege of a loving and unconditionally supportive home.
Pride is a celebration of overcoming adversity and finding happiness when the odds aren’t always in our favor. It’s a letter we write to our queer bodies and queer love in all their forms. It’s the allyship and support from others that have made our journeys possible.
Pride is a deep sense of self-acceptance and the culmination of years of work that went into getting to that point.
So, wherever you or your loved-one are in this journey, we hope you’re having a happy Pride.
What’s there to say about social media that hasn’t already been said? I remember spending hours on AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) as an angsty teen, commiserating with my friends about life, love, and the existential dread of growing up. After that, Xanga became a thing briefly before MySpace conquered the world, serving as a harbinger for what are now deemed classic emo bands (My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Panic! At the Disco, Gym Class Heroes, etc.) and online dating. Facebook came around when I was in high school, and from there, the digital scene exploded.
Nowadays, there are more social media websites and apps than a person can possibly keep track of. I’m somewhat familiar with Instagram, Twitter, Tinder, YouTube, Grindr, and LinkedIn, but once you get into the Snapchat/TikTok realm, I’m totally lost. To me, “TikTok” is that Ke$ha song that came out in college (which is why I only respond with Ke$ha GIFs when somebody sends me a TikTok video), and the idea of sending somebody a picture or video, only for it to disappear after 30 seconds, is completely nonsensical.
Then there’s all of the new lingo that’s come out of the social media revolution: liking, sliding into (somebody’s) DMs, going live—it’s too much to keep track of. Because I don’t social media a lot anymore (besides my meditation app #insighttimer), I often confuse new terms, coming up with hilarious misspeaks like thirstbate, Bumblr, and clicktrap. It probably drives the people around me crazy, but upon learning my mistake, I think my linguistic blunders are quite funny.
Which brings me to Out of Yer Shell.
If you want to start anything successful in 2021, not having a social media presence is the kiss of death. How will people find out about you if you’re not on all of the websites and apps?
That being said, the number of people who visit OOYS every month has been steadily increasing. We’re very much a word-of-mouth resource (we are currently featured on the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s website and have appeared in publications by One-Colorado and Sources of Strength), and while we could probably increase our reach with an active social media account, I have five main reasons for not doing so:
1. I Don’t Feel Like It
Maintaining a thriving social media presence is A LOT of work. Before I co-created Out of Yer Shell, I had a Facebook and Instagram for my artistic outputs, and when I tried to post regularly, I didn’t always feel like it was All Killer and No Filler, if you catch my drift (and Sum 41 reference). With Out of Yer Shell, I want to produce quality content, regardless of how long it takes me to finish, rather than an onslaught of quantity. Sometimes I wish OOYS had a bigger following on social media so I could share helpful articles and videos (like this) from other creators, but those times are so rare that it’s not worth putting in the effort.
In addition to being intentional with how the content is disseminated, there’s also the matter of wanting to spend time posting. Here’s the T, BB:
I have better things to do than go on Instagram.
I’m an avid reader (I just finished So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo, and it was awesome), I record music, I’m finishing up my master’s degree, and I LOVE walking. I love walking so much that I came up with a business idea for getting paid to hatch people’s eggs in Pokémon Go just so I could have a career where I spent the whole day walking. Unfortunately, my plan didn’t work out, so now I’m a social worker…
For me, these activities are so much more fun and rewarding than losing an hour to a social media feed. Plus, my partner and I just got into RuPaul’s Drag Race, so now I have to get caught up on all 14 seasons.
Sorry social media, I just don’t have time for you.
Maybe if I knew somebody else who was willing to internet for Out of Yer Shell for free, I would consider upping our game, but I have millions of excuses for why I don’t personally want to do it; which leads me to my next point:
2. Social Media is Bad for My Mental Health
There is a ton of research floating around in the ether of the interwebs about the effects of social media on mental health. It’s the trendy new topic among researchers who want to be relevant (Because & Duh, 2021). Some of the articles assert that there’s an indisputable connection between depression/anxiety and social media use, while others don’t see a statistically significant correlation.
When I came out, I started following a bunch of different LGBTQIA+ influencers on Hipstergram to develop a sense of community and wash away the inexplicable imposter syndrome that gnawed at me. At first, I was really excited to see all of the wonderful queer folx who were making their mark on the digital world: beautiful and brilliant femmes, unapologetically talented masc folx, non-binary people who encouraged gender norms to lay down and die, and of course, Trixie Mattel…because duh.
It was refreshing to be able to access a community who understood how I was feeling without a long, drawn-out explanation. LGBTQIA+ people have been around forever, and learning about the rich history of my community was totally empowering and affirming. Social media was originally concocted to connect people, and when I first came out, the internet was great for not feeling alone.
Over time, the dopamine rush I got from seeing other queer people doing awesome things faded. Scrolling became monotonous, and instead of being happy for trans womxn who were killing it, I felt self-conscious and envious that I wasn’t as far along in my transition. I compared myself to people whose livelihood depended on their appearance (and whatever else it is that influencers do). Sufficed to say, the happy-feel-good chemicals went away, and checking Instagram became a source of dysphoria.
Social media makes me anxious and depressed. It elicits a feeling of hollowness and zaps all of my energy. I understand that it has become inextricable from every facet of society, and that OOYS could have a much broader reach if I started a TikTok channel, but what’s the point of trying to make life better for trans and enby kids if I don’t take care of myself?
3. Technical Issues
I forgot my Instagram password.
It’s been so long since I was on social media that I no longer know how to use it.
4. Lorde & Kivel
In 1984, Audre Lorde wrote an essay called “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” where she asserted that it is only by circumventing dominant systems of oppression that real change can happen. In her essay, Lorde addressed an audience of white feminists who expected her to explain her experiences of oppression as a Black lesbian woman. She asserted that the white (cis, straight, able-bodied, etc.) feminists’ expectations paralleled how “women…[were] called upon to stretch the gap of male ignorance and to [educate] men as to our existence and our needs.” Lorde goes on to explain that systems of oppression (patriarchy, ableism, xenophobia, etc.) cannot be destroyed from within, using the same tools that reinforce oppression, but must be challenged from outside the system. In this case, Lorde implored white feminists to do the heavy lifting on their own, instead of relying on the one Black lesbian scholar they knew to teach them about racism and homophobia.
Fifteen years later, Paul Kivel, a white writer and activist, rephrased Lorde’s argument into a concise essay about working outside of established systems (especially within the social services realm) to create change. I included Kivel here because I read his essay first (the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ of which could be an entire discussion in itself), but the idea originated with Lorde.
Long story short, Out of Yer Shell sprang from the soil of Lorde and Kivel’s ideas. Trans & enby kids experience mental and physical health struggles, homelessness, substance abuse, and a myriad of other negative circumstances disproportionately compared to their cisgender peers, and there still aren’t many interventions or resources for alleviating those struggles. Social media…well, there’s a lot going on. Therefore, instead of battling with millions of other people and organizations for viewers’ attention, we’ve chosen to work outside the system, and keep OOYS contained to our webpage.
…and again, I have walks to go on and Drag Race to watch.
5. Real-World Community and Impact
The last two years have been a time of growing pains around the world: in the U.S., George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and too many other innocent Americans (predominantly BIPOC folx) were murdered by police officers, which caused our country to start contending with its history of systemic racism and oppression. The U.K. broke up with the European Union; Alexey Navalny, the leader of the Russian opposition party, was attacked twice by Vladimir Putin and his government cronies; anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation popped up in all 50 states; and at least 190 people were killed by explosions at a port in Beirut. Chadwick Boseman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, hate crimes against AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) people rose dramatically, Trump was impeached, and the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down.
To my knowledge, Out of Yer Shell didn’t post about any of these events.
It’s not that we didn’t attend rallies, support Black-owned businesses, mourn the lives of those who died, or wear a mask; We totally did. We just didn’t post about it.
Because our OOYS community is built around word-of-mouth referrals, we communicate with a lot of folx before they visit us (if you’re here and we haven’t talked to you, please feel free to contact us). In these conversations and others that we have with friends and family, we talked about the injustice surrounding Breonna Taylor’s murder and how scared we were of a supreme court without RBG. We marveled at the transphobic laws coming out of Arkansas, West Virginia, Alabama, and a host of other states. We celebrated when Elliot Page came out and cringed every time Caitlyn Jenner opened her mouth.
Posting isn’t how we as an organization processed the last year, and that’s okay. One of the reasons we don’t post on social media is because we would rather have real world conversations with the people around us. In most cases (but not all), these conversations are more fruitful and give us an opportunity to process our feelings without the overwhelming anxiety of having to pick out the perfect hashtag. Nobody should have to write their thoughts on the internet to feel like their feelings are adequate.
You don’t have to post on social media to show that you care. I don’t post on social media for a number of reasons, but mostly because it’s bad for my mental health and I have better things to do (like tasting soda flights or reading The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires—I have to return it to the library soon). This blog post is in no way intended to throw shade at people who use TikTok, Snapchat, or Twitter, but only to suggest that it’s not necessary for a fulfilling life.
What is it about Spring—flowers blooming in abundance while pleasant breezes and sunny days play opposite warm rains pattering on windowpanes like the dancing feet of billions of enamored, little ants—that makes everybody want to get rid of their stuff? Spring Cleaning, as most people know it, is a dusty, time-consuming Band-Aid put on every year around the same time, with no anti-bacterial ointment to fight the incessant infection. It is a temporary fix for a recurrent problem.
And then there was Minimalism—a lifestyle change (with roots in Buddhism) that focuses on finding contentment through less. Buying less unnecessary garbage and spending your money more intentionally—think of it as a shift from compulsory consumption, or the it’s-on-sale-and-you-didn’t-want-it-before-but-whatever-it’s-only-$5 mentality, to buying things you need or things that add value to your life.
Minimalism goes beyond Spring Cleaning. It isn’t solely about spending habits and renouncing your life as a hoarder—that’s just the first step in a long process of building a more intentional life. Folx have written books and blogs, recorded vlogs, and filmed documentaries and television shows about the transition from more to less. In each story, the auteur manages to get out of debt, find peace with their work-life balance, foster healthier relationships, and a whole bunch of other nifty outcomes. Depending on how you downsize, minimalism could even help you check the “environmentalist-hipster” box at parties.
Who doesn’t want to be the environmentalist-hipster at a party?
This post, however, is for a special kind of minimalist, who just so happens to find themselves in a queer sort of quandary. How can a person reconfigure their entire life without buying a bunch of stuff? How can you go from presenting as a feminine female to expressing the bald, bearded, butch dude who’s been incognito under layers of gender dysphoria since the dawn of time? How can the mild-mannered, genderqueer Clark Kent emerge from the telephone booth, dressed to the nines, and finally feeling like their super fabulous self, if they have nothing to wear?
When trans & non-binary folx tire of adhering to the gender roles they were assigned at birth (based on arbitrary body parts that remain unseen for most of the day) and decide to express their gender identities in a more honest and outward way, they transition. Transitioning looks different for everybody, takes varying amounts of time, and can cost different amounts of money. Trans and enby folx basically have to re-work their entire lives to fit themselves, instead of worrying about normativity and societal pressure.
Minimalism and transition have a lot in common: both revolve around regaining control of your life by expunging the things (both literally and figuratively) that don’t make you happy, thereby creating room for more meaningful experiences, relationships, and stuff (again, both literally and figuratively). There’s no set timeframe or rigid rules for transitioning or becoming a minimalist, and for most, it’s about the journey, not the destination. Ultimately, your way of life shifts, and suddenly, you’re not as miserable as you used to be.
That being said, transitioning isn’t always a smooth ride—especially when it comes to clothes. Two years into my transition, I bought a pair of neon pink, leopard-print, “shredded” leggings to make up for the Kesha parties and LMFAO concerts I’d underdressed for in college. They were undoubtedly a conversation piece that would have fit in well at the house parties I frequented as an undergrad, but weren’t practically designed for a trans grrrl who wanted to look professional…or even a twenty-eight-year-old who wanted to look human.
Unfortunately, these leggings weren’t my first misstep in the “womxn’s fashion” world—whatever that means. I’ve bought and donated a lot of clothes and miscellaneous crap over the course of my transition process—sometimes learning from previous mistakes, and other times…not so much. I’ve always tried to purchase things from secondhand stores when possible (because the environment), but sometimes it’s just not in the cards.
For many marginalized communities, buying stuff creates a sense of control (I could write about this struggle for days, but for clarity’s sake, read Mikki Kendall’s fabulous book, Hood Feminism). For transgender and gender non-conforming folx, buying clothes, shoes, and accessories that reflect our gender identities gives us a power over our bodies and style that many of us have never had; therefore, purchasing a pair of pumps we don’t “need” isn’t an act of fashionista fierceness, so much as empowering and loving ourselves (although sometimes it’s one of those “I’ve got to have it! purchases that are fueled by personal desire…,” as Janet Mock so eloquently described them).
While rainbows and unicorns (queer identities) are undoubtedly a colossal piece of the puzzle that makes up each and every trans and enby person, they’re not the only identity that we prioritize in our lives. We are undoubtedly in the middle of a climate change crisis that is exacerbated by fast-fashion, factory farming, motorized transportation, pollution, and a host of other icky inconveniences. The results of climate change disproportionately impact marginalized communities, especially in the global South, where hordes of locusts are devouring Africa, and natural disasters have destroyed much of Nepal. In 2016, Louisiana was hit by a ‘1,000-year’ flood a few months after a ‘500-year’ flood wreaked havoc on the state’s people and parishes (Louisiana doesn’t have counties, they have parishes—don’t mix it up). Sea levels are rising around the world, and polar bears and other arctic creatures are losing their habitats. These are big problems that compulsive consumption, or buying things without a second thought, plays a role in.
Transition is obviously a non-negotiable AND you can do it in a way that’s eco-friendly. You don’t have to choose between the two identities.
The worst thing a person can do is buy something new, then throw it away when it no longer serves them. While the donation process has its faults, it is still better than throwing something in the garbage where it will immediately be transferred to landfills. For trans and enby folx interested in incorporating minimalism into their transition, building your wardrobe from thrift stores, clothing swaps, and other second-hand outlets is one way to help combat climate change. You can also go with a capsule wardrobe, where all of your clothes match, so you can make bazillions of outfit combinations, but only own a few pieces. There’s lots of options, especially if you get creative.
The buzzword from the Minimalism documentary on Netflix is intentionality. Transition is the ultimate act of being intentional with yourself, so why not do it in a way that benefits the planet and gives you more reasons to be smug about buying vintage clothing? If ‘minimalism’ isn’t the term that fits best, just tell your friends that you saw Ariana Grande’s post about thrift stores on Instagram, so you thought you’d give them a try.
If you’re up to date on recent U.S. natural disaster news, you may have heard about the surge of wildfires across California this past week. Weirdly enough, even if you aren’t, you still may have heard about these fires because they’ve been a discussion topic among the transgender community recently.
The connection, bizarrely, is a gender reveal party.
Thrown by a couple who violated COVID-19 social distancing and quarantine protocol to launch fireworks into the dry countryside of California to announce their unborn child’s genitalia, the party quickly turned from weird and uncomfortable to outright disastrous as the fires ignited. At the time of this post, the fires have spread across more than 13,500 acres, causing tens of thousands of people to evacuate.
California’s wildfire warnings are plastered all over the state in an effort to reduce fire damage and prevent disasters like the one caused by this party. Astoundingly, this is the second time in the last three years that this type of incident, at the same type of party, occurred. In 2017, a wildfire was started by another couple throwing a gender reveal using pyrotechnics.
Following these incidents, many trans and non-binary individuals, other members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and allies expressed distaste for the concept of gender reveal parties. Not only do these parties subscribe to the binarist, cisgender social narrative that is imposed on our children from birth, but they also enforce sexist gender roles, and contribute to transphobic rhetoric that is so often weaponized against our community.
Some examples include:
“Well you were BORNa boy/girl…”
This statement implies that genitalia is synonymous with gender identity—which is untrue.
“Didn’t you used to be a boy/girl though?”
This question implies that because the trans or non-binary person on the other end may have been raised as a different gender, or that they used to identify differently, their current gender identity is invalid or untrue.
Again, this is false, and dismisses the trans person’s autonomy and selfhood. Additionally, not everyone wants to talk about what their lives looked prior to coming out. It is best just to be polite, and avoid this line of thinking.
“Right but what parts do you have? Like biologically?”
This question is insensitive and invasive, and once again implies that the asker equates genitalia to gender. When a trans or non-binary person shares their pronouns, that is all you need to know. You probably wouldn’t ask a stranger you perceive as cisgender what their genitals look like, so don’t do it to queer folx either!
In the wake of these fires, the womxn who came up with the concept of gender reveal parties spoke out about how she feels regarding the situation now:
“Stop having these stupid parties. For the love of God, stop burning things down to tell everyone about your kid’s penis. No one cares but you,” Jenna Karvunidis posted on Facebook.
She says she regrets the popularization of the parties, and also that her perspective on gender has since changed. Karvunidis feels that putting children in boxes limits their potential and talents “that have nothing to do with what’s between their legs.” Coincidentally, her own first-born now identifies as non-binary.
“There are plenty of reasons to eat cake,” Karvunidis said in a statement to The Guardian. “You can pick one that doesn’t reinforce an attitude of harm toward members of the LGBTQ community.”
Karvunidis’ insight and support for the LGBTQIA+ community is refreshing and valuable. It is also worth mentioning that when she held the first gender reveal party with her husband, it was to celebrate a healthy pregnancy following complications and miscarriages—gender had very little to do with it, other than marking the stage in which the sex of the baby could be determined.
Hopefully, these recent disasters will help more people understand the need to move away from the heavy emphasis on gender roles and binary sex characteristics. It is healthier and happier for everyone to let children grow into their gender identities naturally, rather than saddling them with expectations based on what’s between their legs.
It must have been 2004 or 2005, because I was high on the couch (with a prescription, of course) with a broken ankle and a copy of Rolling Stone, featuring Green Day on the cover for their political pop punk manifesto, American Idiot. It was fifteen or sixteen years ago, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t recall all of the other articles that were featured in the overpriced homage to Mick Jagger and company (or that Bob Dylan song—who knows?). The one article I do remember (aside from the Green Day one) was about a Latinx womxn who was killed in Newark, CA in 2002.
Gwen Araujo was seventeen years old when Jason Cazares, Michael Magidson, José Merél, and Jaron Nabors murdered her. The details of her death are gory, horrific, and predominantly fueled by homophobia and transphobia. Upon learning that Gwen had what her assailants considered to be “unladylike” genitalia, the four assaulted her until she passed out, and then strangled her and beat her to death with a shovel.
This was the first portrayal of a transgender womxn I ever experienced: violence and sensationalized headlines. She was the first time I saw myself in the media.
Prior to reading Gwen’s story, I thought the most closely-guarded part of my identity—that secret I never intended to share—was an impossibility without a fairy godmother or a primitive intervention. Occasionally, some of the 90s and early 2000s cartoons I watched would play around with gender (who could forget the episode of Fairly Oddparents where Timmy gets girly for a day?), but for the most part, gender was an immovable, unchangeable construct that kept me up at night.
Before creating this website, I wrote a book of macabre poetry about my life and experiences with gender. Sufficed to say, it was not an uplifting tale, despite the story’s happy (most days) ending. There were poems about eating disorders, self-harm, suicidality, and a number of other mental health risks that were easy to hide from my loved-ones (sometimes), but that made functioning in the world difficult. I’ve never been a very talented visual artist, but I even had a few dopey sketches to include with the poems.
The collection was called (W)hole to convey a self-indulgent sense of overcoming adversity to embrace my identity. Don’t get me wrong, trans and gender non-conforming (GNC) folx have to put up with a lot of malarkey, but as far as being trans is concerned, I have a lot of privilege.
Some of the poems were pretty good, while others were lazy and sad. In a hypothetical world where (W)hole sold as well as my last book (a dystopian novel about biking and David Bowie), I’d be able to say I’d sold two whole books in my lifetime. Watch out New York Times Bestseller List!
I thought about Gwen a lot when I was compiling my collection. Would another book of poetry have made a difference?
It’s been eighteen years since her death, and even though trans and non-binary folx are more visible than ever before, our community is being harassed, sexually, physically, mentally, and emotionally assaulted, and murdered more often than ever before. Are those figures actually representative of the violence against our community, or have the cogs that make up society been underreporting and misreporting trans and non-binary (especially our siblings from BIPOC communities) deaths and atrocities? I don’t know. Research is great, until it’s so flooded with transphobia, ableism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia, and all of the other biases and “isms” that perpetuate hate that it’s no longer useful.
School has always been my coping mechanism. When I was a kid, I figured that if I did a really good job in school, my family and friends would have to love me even though I was trans. There’s obviously a lot to unpack with that particular thought process, but regardless, I did well in academics, and it continues to be a place where I thrive (unless it’s Zoom class—barf).
Thus, in my first quarter of social work grad school (privilege, privilege, privilege), I wrote a loooonng, meticulously researched essay about queer youth suicide. About halfway through the paper, I started crying.
It very well could have been the estrogen that triggered my response, but more likely, the idea that 30%-51% of transgender and gender non-conforming youth—kids, mind you—attempt suicide was enough to break me (especially because I hypothesized that these statistics were low). To my infinite horror, I found that no interventions had been created or studied to make life less shitty for LGBTQIA+ youth.
It was all talk and no action.
I’ve been transgender for a long time. Longer than I’ve been sober, vegan, a musician, married—you name it, and the trans thing has been around longer. Consequently, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks for mitigating gender dysphoria and not hurting myself (which work most of the time). Considering how sparse the research on gender dysphoria and queer folx in general is, I figured it couldn’t hurt to share what I know to be true.
As an adult, I’m afforded many of the privileges that I didn’t have as a kid: money, legal autonomy, a (mostly) developed brain, lived experiences, etc. These privileges have made living in a cis-heteronormative society easier, but I still can’t help but feel like I failed my twelve-year-old self by allowing her to carry around more self-loathing than any child should ever have to bear.
At that age, I didn’t know the lingo or have the self-confidence to fight for what I needed, let alone understand my own feelings. My parents and loved-ones came from a generation where gender fluidity existed within the unnamed confines of The Rocky Horror Picture Show—a.k.a. non-binary folx were seen as straight-up extraterrestrials. Many schools, shrinks, and doctors were in the dark about the needs of the queer community, and believe it or not, marriage equality didn’t yet exist in all 50 states.
Essentially, transphobia existed everywhere, and I internalized that shit like a child-prodigy takes up the piano. Consequently, I wasn’t particularly nice to myself for a very, very long time. The politicization of queer (and black, disabled, autistic, POC, Muslim, immigrant, etc.) bodies has to stop. My transness is a natural and beautiful part of human variation, just like redheads and left-handed folx.
My essay on queer youth suicide ultimately led me to transform the experiences I would have poem-ed about in (W)hole into Out of Yer Shell. I didn’t advocate for myself when I was a kid because there was nothing like OOYS at the time (trust me, I looked). Flooding trans and enby kids with shame to keep them from coming out of their shell is abuse in every sense of the word. Our community has to be active in combatting systems of oppression that disproportionately affect us, such as suicidality, murder, and homelessness. We need to change the culture surrounding coming out and transitioning and educate ourselves, our loved-ones, and our providers (teachers, principals, mental and medical health professionals, etc.) on ways to be more supportive and loving. The old way doesn’t work:
We need a revolution.
Out of Yer Shell may not be the Stonewall Riot of the internet, but hopefully it’s a start. A lot has changed since Gwen Araujo was murdered in 2002—most of it for the better. The “panic defense,” a term that refers to committing violent crimes because the perpetrator learns that their victim is gay or trans, which was used to defend Gwen’s murderers, has been outlawed in eleven states since 2013. Movies like Disclosure, which analyzes portrayals of trans and non-binary individuals in the media, and the negative effects thereof, are being made by mainstream streaming services. Gender & Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) have been studied, and proven to be effective forms of suicide prevention within schools for ALL kids. Violence and oppression still plague our community, but _____________ (insert something uplifting).
Sometimes it’s okay to leave a blank empty and come back to it later. Resilience refers to the ability to overcome adversity, not that you always have to have something positive to say.
When we were creating the content for Out of Yer Shell, it felt like there wasn’t a really good place to remember Gwen, but it felt wrong to not include her at all. For better or worse, her life taught me so many different things about myself and my community, and eighteen years later (she would be 35 this year), her story and the stories of other queer folx are still changing and reshaping the world. The Matthew Shepard Foundation is doing incredible work to honor Matt’s memory, including Matthew’s Place and their “Vote 4 Matt” campaign, while the Marsha P. Johnson Institute unabashedly fights for justice for black transgender individuals. Queer poets, such as Andrea Gibson, Mary Oliver, and Alok Vaid-Menon, are celebrated for their words and experiences all over the world, while queer stories, such as Pose and Queer Eye are embraced by mainstream audiences.
See, I filled in that blank with optimism!
That being said, “Silence = Death” was the ACT UP slogan that defined the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s, and it’s the same logic that applies to suicidality, homelessness, and mental health struggles among transgender and gender non-conforming youth today. If we do nothing, our kids and our community will continue to suffer. If we don’t change the way cisgender society perceives and treats trans and non-binary youth, they will keep dying. This isn’t a message of hope, but of necessity.
There’s a lot of work to do, but I believe that people, and society at-large, can change. Protecting trans and non-binary kids is so so soooooo important, and with the help of loved-ones, providers, and the LGBTQIA+ community, we can shift the narrative surrounding transition, coming out, and acceptance. It might start with pronouns, but hopefully it ends with saving a young person’s life .
For a long time, I have been challenged when I expressed my identity as a transman. Unfortunate as this is, I’m sure many people can relate to hearing things like:
Are you sure? Maybe you’re a lesbian?
Well, you’ll grow out of that phase.
But you’re biologically female, so you’re not really a guy.
Have you had “the surgery?”
What’s your REAL name?
All of these questions are rude, invasive, and inappropriate on a number of levels—and yet for most of my adolescence they were all pretty typical reactions I got to speaking about my transness. It’s bad enough being questioned on the validity of your gender identity and dismissed, but like many other trans folx, that is not the only adversity in response to my identity that I face.
I am someone who struggles with severe and persistent mental illness—meaning that a lot of my behaviors, thought processes, and reactions can seem bizarre to people who don’t know me well or aren’t aware of my diagnoses. However, despite my symptoms seeming strange to others, I have lived with them for a long time and know how to function around the obstacles they create, and I’m able to live my life most often as comfortably as those who don’t experience them.
Unfortunately, in the same way people ask about and then deny my transness, my mental illness means I get my capability for decision making and autonomy as a person questioned even more often. And occasionally, people will attempt to use my mental illness to discredit my gender identity—which is entirely absurd, because there is no correlation between my gender identity and the symptoms I experience.
I have no qualms about identifying as male—it’s comfortable, it’s true to myself, and it’s how I’ve felt for as long as I can remember. Which is, notably, far longer than any of my current mental illness symptoms have been on my or anyone else’s radar.
Despite pointing out this conflict to people, it’s as though they don’t even bother to listen, and I’m left with the same irritated feeling I get when I’m misgendered even without the added ableism thrown in.
Symptoms of mental illness do not necessarily have anything to do with gender identity. A lot of transphobic rhetoric seems to center around the false belief that trans people are mentally ill because their identities don’t align with their presentation. The reality of the matter shows us that this perspective is skewed; trans people are more disproportionately affected by mental illness, however this is because of the social stigma and transphobia they face from cis people for being trans.
There is a relationship between the trans community and mental illness, but transphobic rhetoric posits that mental illness leads to “becoming” trans, when actually it would be more accurate to turn that around. Coming out as trans often leads people to face more adversity, more bigotry and discrimination than remaining closeted (or in their shells)—and when pressure is piled on from every aspect of someone’s life simply because of their identity (denied employment, denied housing, denied healthcare, etc.), it isn’t hard to see how that community is particularly susceptible to mental illness.
So, to set the record straight: “transgender” as a descriptor has the same use as “cisgender,” and someone’s gender identity does not make them mentally ill by default. However, the transgender community as a whole does have a higher prevalence of mental illness due to social stigma and systemic oppression.
It’s a tough existence being discredited on the basis of one facet of your identity or another, and mentally ill trans people are a particularly vulnerable population due to these identities (and others, such as race and socioeconomic status also play into discrimination faced by the trans community) overlapping.
I don’t often see trans positive pages that include this part of the conversation. I feel often as someone who is both trans and mentally ill that despite being offered resources (help lines, therapy numbers, crisis prevention, etc.), there is little recognition that it is okay to be mentally ill and trans. We face an enormous amount of adversity even outside struggles specific to our gender identities, and yet I rarely see it spoken on.
Mental health is important for everyone, particularly trans folx. Talking about it should not be something so stigmatized when our community is so affected by it. A lot of trans people have significant trauma they’ve experienced that can manifest as mental illness—and while this is unfortunate, it does not make your identity any less valid.