Do we remember our first major exposure to transgender people?
I do, vaguely. Back in high school, my mom and I would watch trashy daytime television before bed, and for probably two years, that lineup included Jerry Springer. 80% of that show is nonsensical yelling and fist-fights because somebody cheated on someone else, and the rest was barely disguised transphobia.
(If you’ve never seen the show, the formula for the secondary aspect usually goes one of two ways: the first is where a cisgender man talks about having sex with a woman, and the woman comes out to reveal herself as transgender and there’s a very long conversation about why she “tricked him”. The second, less common, is when the cisgender partner of a transgender person reveals that they cheated, usually because the transgender person wants to go further in their transition.)
We’d been watching the show for probably a year and a half by the time I had the “oh no, I’m transgender” realization, and while I don’t think it did any lasting damage in terms of my view of transgender people as a culture, it wasn’t challenging my previously-cisgender views on things either.
Except I didn’t realize how much that stupid show left an impact on me until just recently.
My first year of college, I roomed with two people, a good friend from college and a stranger. Both non binary, both people who were well aware about my transition and my shot schedule. This second year of college, that changed.
Now, I’m rooming with a complete stranger; a very nice, sweet stranger, albeit, but someone who didn’t have to be introduced to me through the “hi, I’m transgender lens”. Since my university updated its system for student housing, it no longer gives prospective roommates one’s deadname if they have a “preferred” name in the system. This new girl has only ever known me as Logan, as a man.
This posed a difficult question for me in the lead-up to moving in. I had the option to tell her, while knowing absolutely nothing about her views on transgender people, and I had the option to simply say nothing.
Half out of paranoia and half out of no idea how to organically bring up the conversation of my gender, I chose to say nothing. And now, about a week into the new living situation, I don’t have regret, but I don’t feel right either.
To be clear (to a general audience and to myself), I don’t consider what I’m doing as “hiding”. If my roommate were ever to point blank ask me, I wouldn’t deny being transgender. I’m not going to cram myself into our tiny little bathroom just to prevent her from seeing that I give myself weekly shots. I’m not blind to the idea she might already know either; I go back and forth on certainty towards how well I truly “pass”, and she might have suspicions as to my gender status without me having to say anything.
But not saying anything has still felt like lying. And I guess that it almost makes sense that it does, because I haven’t been quiet about being transgender ever since I came out. Even before coming out, I was vocal online and where I could manage it. For me, to not be loud about what I am is to be ashamed, hiding, lying.
The idea that I’m lying if I don’t disclose being transgender from the get-go is not just a me problem, I know that. Decades upon decades of media playing up the “lying transgender” or “surprise transgender” trope for gags has done undeniable damage, most notably to transgender women, but to transgender men as well (looking at you, “Boys Don’t Cry”).
Veering between invisibility and hypervisibility seems to be a transgender person’s only choices, even for me. If I don’t constantly display who I am, I feel like I’m falling into the pitfalls of being deceptive; it makes trying to date fun, plastering “trans man” everywhere I can, in hopes that I can preemptively protect myself from violence.
But the thing that the “transgender deception” stereotype/trope never considers is the autonomy of trans people. I’ve been forcibly outed a handful of times, but when I wanted to come out to the people I genuinely cared about (friends and family), I chose when and how to go about it. I don’t go into interactions or relationships with the mindset of seeing how long I can “fool” the person.
I know I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m betting to be on the safe side by saying next to no transgender person works towards the goal of “fooling” the most cisgender people. The details of a transgender person’s body is just as private as everyone’s, and we all have the autonomy to choose to disclose that information or to not. Choosing not to doesn’t mean we’re lying.
Writing this has mostly been an exercise in making myself comfortable in my own decisions. It’s easy to preach to a faceless mass and say “you owe no one your most personal details”, it’s harder to internalize that and believe it for yourself. But as each day goes by, I am finding it easier to ignore the little Jerry Springer-sounding voice in the back of my head that wants to know why I insist on lying.
Whether we’re closeted, just coming out, or if we’ve been transitioned for years, we aren’t liars if we choose not to be vocal about our transness in every single social situation. Our safety and comfort comes before cisgender feelings every single time.