I was doing a bit of YouTube browsing and stumbled upon videos from a documentary called THE AND, a project from the “Skin Deep” channel where they seek to explore the intimacy of human relationships. The videos are so raw, honest and intimate that it almost makes you feel like you are intruding but you can’t look away either. This interaction between Cat and Keith is one that grabbed my attention not only because it is incredibly endearing but because it offered a nuanced perspective to the transgender story that we don’t always consider.
Here are a few of the things that I learned:
1) Transitioning is Not a Clear Cut Process
For many (read most) of us when we think of the transitioning process or of transgender people, we most likely imagine people in the before or after process. That is, before is the body with which they were born, and after is when they’ve gone through surgery to have their body match who they are. In her interview with Oprah, Janet Mock talked about the fact the transgender experience is not a clear, black and white process of transition; it’s a spectrum with people who exist at every point between the before and after, and all of those experiences encapsulate the entire transgender experience, not one more than the other. In this video, Keith alludes to that when he mentions he has yet to go through his sex change surgery; That does not make him any less of a man, but he mentions that this is something that people don’t always get.
2) Transitioning is Not All Roses and Daisies
“I’m hesitant to tell you, that there’s things in my transition that are very scary to me. And that maybe the way I feel about my transition today might not be how I feel about it tomorrow”. When Keith said that it hit me hard because in my mind I always envision the transition process as something delightful because you just can’t wait to have your body finally match what you know it should be. While I am aware of the struggle surrounding the process, like raising the funds for the surgery and having a strong support system through it all, it never crossed my mind that that would be an inner turmoil about the process itself. Keith is very honest about not always being excited about it, and carrying a fear of failing his partner whom he imagines is waiting for him to complete the transition. In addition to the struggle of that in-between period, Keith also talks about how sex has its own set of issues, because as a man he envisions having sex in a certain way but it cannot be done as he wishes because his external sexual organs don’t match who he is. That is an aspect of body acceptance that must be incredibly difficult to deal with, in addition to not being sure whether he will proceed with the full sex change.
3) Do Not Underestimate the Importance of Support
Around the 4:00 minute mark, Cat talks about how she knows Keith often struggles with the fear that she might one day grown impatient and leave him because he has yet proceed with the rest of his transition. She wants him to know that she will be right there, and it’s ok for him to stop wherever he feels comfortable. And that’s when I lose it with the tears, because Keith is tearing up and Cat is tearing as well, and I’m over here wishing I could give them both a huge hug.
I am reminded of the importance of holding space for others to go through their journey, trust that they know what is best for them and just say I am here, I am not going anywhere. This isn’t to say that transgender people need anybody’s permission to do that what they wish with their body. It’s is a reminder that we as cisgendered folks should make sure to be one less thing they need to worry about, and do our best to create the safe space for them to live their journey. Living as a transgender person is not always an easy experience and we as cis-gendered folks have to do our best to not be another emotional burden. It’s really the very least we can do.
4) Transgender People, Are People
I don’t mean this is a bigoted kind of way, as if saying that prior to watching this video I didn’t consider trans folks to be real people. But really even as allies, it is very easy to be dehumanizing towards transgender people even with our best intentions. I spend countless hours reading articles written by transgender people about their experiences, I comment on their articles, I watch their videos, I correct people when they use the wrong pronouns…etc. But I realize that it is so very easy to get caught in the discussion of it, in the anthropology of the transgender experience, discussing it as some theory to dissect for a paper or even a blogpost. It is very easy to forget there are real people behind the statistics, behind the think pieces, behind the videos.
This is a feeling that I recognize this a little, because I once had a boyfriend whom I thought really understood gender injustice, until one day he told me “I know you are going to go out there and fight for women’s rights but when you come home you will know how to leave it at the door and be a good wife”. I knew right then that to him, my feminism was just a theory out there over there but nothing that really affected our lives personally. And I immediately recognized this same attitude in myself while watching this video. How I can afford of a sort of detached curiosity which I think is just as dangerous as someone who doesn’t like transgender people at all. So what does this mean for us who consider ourselves good allies?
-We need to check ourselves. Are we really in it, are we really in the trenches fighting with our fellow human beings? How are we supporting the movement beyond written blog posts (that’s me), retweeted articles or comments left? What is the tangible support we are giving? Transgender organizations are the one who receive the least amount of financial support even if only talking about LGBT organizations. Let us put our money (if we can) we our mouth is, in the same breath that we correct pronouns.
-We need to be better listeners. That means understanding we will be called out for not doing things well or saying the right things. Listen and be ready to change.
-We need to amplify and celebrate transgender voices. That does not just mean making room for them as if we are the gatekeepers, but really getting out of the way and letting them tell their own stories. And if we right articles about transgender experiences, let it be an introspective piece in which we analyze the ways in which we are complicit in the problem and how we’re going to change it.