Content warning: The following story references someone coming out as Transgender, and explains their experience as a Trans individual, some elements of the story may be triggering to some readers.
"The Deconstruction of Transness," Jesseanne Pope
Maybe my words will never come together in a way that accurately conveys the thoughts swirling in my mind and the emotions weighing on my heart, but maybe one day they will. I keep writing because sometimes I don’t know where I am at until I see it on paper. Part of being a queer person in an educational role is always being shoved into the token spotlight; always being expected to speak on The Queer Experience™.
There are a few things that play into the development of this situation.
I am a ‘safe queer’ in many aspects: I am white, I am young, I don’t visibly look ‘too radical’, I am assumed to be American and English speaking, I am able bodied, and I am extroverted and well spoken (also a product of my white privilege). The privileges that I hold in my other identities allow me to be a safe trans person for both well-intended and mal-intended curious folks to direct their questions to. So I write to help prepare myself for the questions, although they are never-ending and ever-adapting.
When/how did I know I was trans?
How did I decide to ‘change’ my pronouns?
How did I realize I wasn’t trans-binary?
Do I hate my body?
Why haven’t I had top surgery?
Am I on T? Why/Why not?
How can I be non-binary if I present masculine?
Was I born a girl?
How do I tell the people I’m interested in what’s in my pants?
How does it feel to be ‘born in the wrong body’?
I’ll go ahead an invite you to check back into my dissertation a decade or so from now, because that’s the only place where I might be able to tackle the mess that is the questions above. For now, I wanted to share a glimpse of my story, and you can take from it whatever you need, as a trans person, as an ally, as a friend, as whoever you are.
The story from birth to now would include many different pieces to the puzzle that is my transness; however, that’s something I would share 1:1, maybe over coffee? For now, I want to start here. When I came out as trans non-binary I took the anxiety that I had harbored in a deep, dark place in my body and faced it head on. I felt immense pressure from those around me, both members of the queer community and people outside of it, to validate my transness. My social transition started with cutting my hair off, then changing my gender expression to be more masculine, then using gender-neutral pronouns, and then tackling my 24 years of socialization as a woman.
As a trans masculine person I was socialized for 24 years to think, live, be, act, do, talk, walk, and breathe womanhood. Coming out as trans meant that I could finally be authentically myself, and begin to deconstruct the harmful messaging that I had received that had pushed me into a box where I felt isolated, confused, and as though I did not belong.
I bind my chest whenever possible. I wear men's clothing, and get my hair cut at the barbers. I use gender-neutral language, but enjoy masculine centered language more than feminine. I am self-conscious about the tone and pitch of my voice. Each and every day my body, my voice, my name, my hair; it is all intertwined pain of misgendering, of gender suppression; of denial, self-hate, and loneliness. My efforts to present authentically are also efforts to find a home in my body. To have others see me as I truly am.
For many trans people, surgery and hormones offer a way to do just that. So why am I at a point where that is not what I want? I don’t know. Deconstructing 24 years of transphobia, bedded with homophobia, misogyny, and endless socialized and internalized oppression makes it difficult to address my body as a trans person. I was taught that my worth as a woman lies in my body; that it lies in the ability of my body to fit an extremely oppressive and unrealistic standard of attractiveness to men. So what does it mean for me to change my body in a way that removes the sole place where I have positioned my worth for 24 years? Detaching myself from misogyny means that I have to tear apart the idealized version of womanhood that I was told is where I should strive to be. How do I build self-worth, self-love, or self-acceptance in a body that has repeatedly been valued and rewarded for it’s complacent femininity?
I don’t have the answers, and I’m sorry to leave you with questions. As I continue to evaluate my soul and redirect energy within my mind and body I hope that I will come to a place where I feel home and where my authentic self can truly exist. However, that may be a lifelong journey for me. Coming out as trans has created a space in my life for me to express myself and share my experience, but socialization runs deep; it is embedded in everything that we do. Being trans means that I fumble through dysphoria every day, some days it’s okay and some it’s worse than others. Sometimes I can find solace in the chair at the barbers, or with a bow-tie. And then sometimes I feel the weight of people’s assumptions about my gender so heavily.
When people look at me and see my chest, or hear my voice, or learn my name and push me back into years of hiding, I feel as if I will never be able to speak again. My spirit is lost in the translation, between misgendering, transphobia, misogyny, ignorance, and exclusion. In these moments I take a deep breath, I center myself, and I validate myself as a trans person, as a masculine person, as a non-binary person, as a queer person whose existence in my world is radical. The way I fit in my body may change, my body may change; I will change.
The one thing that won’t change is my validity as a trans person, because our worth and our existence is not dependent on our bodies fitting into a pre-determined set of expectations. I am real and I am trans, and each day that I live and breathe my existence is disruptive, and that is a wonderful feeling.
About the art:
I first met Jesseanne a little over a year ago at Oregon State. We had been in touch for a while before that, and I even helped them along their grad school application process. So I've been able to watch their transition, if even by afar, for some time now.
What I have loved about experiencing Jesseanne's transition and evolution, is that they've have been perfectly unapologetic and open every step of the way. It's been wonderful to witness how they advocate for themselves and the others in their community. It's truly inspiring.
So for this piece, I wanted to take a powerful moment in this story - all of the questions they ask toward the beginning - and write them all out on the canvas. I find that while these questions are pertinent to Jesseanne's experience, they are also reminders of the work they still have to do in their transition, which is completely normal.
I painted the Transgender flag over the questions as an homage to their identity in hopes it will be a positive source of inspiration for them moving forward.
I'm so thankful that Jesseanne shared this piece with us and I cannot wait to see what happens with them next.