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It’s a dysphoria day.

I’ve been living authentically for almost ten years; I’ve been on hormones for just over seven. Two surgeries, four-and-a-half and three-and-a-half years ago, went a long way towards banishing these moments of disconnect.In my daily life, no one questions my gender. And yet, I still have days where question myself, where the dysphoria that once occurred daily rises up from the dark corners of my mind and makes itself known again. I can’t always pinpoint the trigger for these feelings. Today, though, I know exactly what caused it.

I’m letting my hair grow again.

Some context: At its longest, my hair has never passed my jaw. In fifth grade, I got it cut so that it brushed the tops of my years. Not a “pixie” cut either. Some of the earlier pictures show a bowl-style cut; later, I styled it by parting it on the left and pushing my bangs off to the side. I got it cut again right around the time I started hormones and have spent the last seven years sporting an almost Tintin-like style: short back and sides, with the front long enough that it flips upwards. Until I moved to Alaska, haircuts occurred monthly, although I would occasionally grow it out a bit for Halloween costumes.

Things changed a bit here on the tundra. My coworker Jenny cuts hair, but between her schedule, my schedule, and the cooler temperatures I’ve taken to going two or three months between trims.

As has become my custom, I got a haircut in August right before I returned to Nunap. My intention was to then grow it out for Halloween. I ended up buying a wig to use with my costume, but I didn’t get my hair cut right away. For a while now I’ve been toying with the idea of doing something different with my hair anyway, so I figured this was as good a time as any to start.

Watching my hair get longer again has been interesting. Some things are funny, like seeing my students exclaim over how it no longer stands up. Other things are annoying, like the two cowlicks in the back that won’t lie flat no matter what I do. (One advantage to letting my hair continue to grow: Said cowlicks no longer exist.) And some things I’d just plain forgotten about, like how much static charge can build up in this dry air.

At one point a couple of weeks ago, I looked in the mirror and realized that my hair has now reached the same length it was in high school and my first few years of college. Back when I was bullied for how I looked. Back when I avoided public restrooms for fear of the looks and words that would come my way. Back when I started living authentically and had to deal with people questioning each and every thing about how I presented. Old memories and feelings I thought I’d dealt with began clamoring for attention again. For the last two weeks, I’ve been coping with these demons from my past as I try to go about my daily routine, teach my kids, prepare for the holidays.

The loudest voice keeps telling me, “You look like a girl.” Intellectually, I know this is bull. My hair is longer than other men, about the same as others, and far shorter than some. Emotionally, the words resonate with a different meaning: I look like I did when the world identified me as a girl. And that was not a happy time.

I admit, once I realized just what memories were stirring, I nearly texted Jenny and asked for an immediate haircut. But I didn’t. Instead, I spent time thinking and reflecting.Part of me wants to keep my hair this length, at least for a little while. Yes, I have bad memories associated with it, but if I get it cut again right now, then those will also be the only memories and feelings I have about this look. I’d rather overwrite them with a more positive take on things. And what does it say about the society that I was raised in, that I worry so much about if my appearance and gestures are more “feminine” than “masculine”? Because it’s not just the length of my hair that can cause dysphoria; I still worry about the shape of my body and the way I gesture with my hands or sit in a chair.

So how do I cope with dysphoria days? I reach out to my support network. In this case,  I took pictures and posted them on Facebook, seeking validation from my friends. They responded with nothing but positive energy. I pull myself out of my body for a bit by reading or writing fiction. I watch some of my favorite movies or TV series. I work out. Or sometimes, like today, I pull on a favorite baseball cap (backwards) and t-shirt, park myself in front of my computer, and spend hours working out how to arrange my thoughts into an articulate blog post. Because the naming of the demons gives them less power over me. Because “shared pain is lessened”. Because I know I’m not alone. Because I want other people struggling with similar issues to know that they aren’t alone, either.

 

 

A few days ago, an article popped up on my Facebook news feed: a group called the Binding Health Project just published the first study on chest binding to be carried by a medical journal (Culture, Health, and Society).  As I read through the article (which can be found here), I found myself immersed in memories of my own experiences.

As a youngling, my body didn’t offer too much in the way of dysphoric triggers. In my experience, society as a whole and my family in particular were more lax in what kids got to wear and how they acted. Several photos exist of me running around the family lake house as a toddler with the top of my one piece bathing suit pushed down around my waist, and I have strong memories of sitting by fires on the beach there in just shorts or pants.

Initially, I was in denial about the changes puberty brought to my body. I saw myself as a boy, and the idea that my body may be developing in a different way intensified the feelings of discomfort I was already experiencing. When I couldn’t deny the changes to my body any longer, I insisted on only buying sports bras. Through high school, my dysphoria and body image issues only continued to grow. The sports bras became both a blessing and a curse: Underneath my preferred t-shirt and vests or hoodies, the undergarments provided enough camouflage that I felt comfortable moving through the world, but at the same time the very name of the things reminded me that society saw me as a girl. I only wore a “regular” bra a handful of times, and never outside a dressing room or my own bedroom. To this day, even the memories of those few experiences bring an overwhelming feeling of disconnect between the mental and the physical, a dizziness that only increased when I’d contemplate wearing the things out in public.

College brought the opportunity to explore my identity and begin living authentically. No longer happy with the sports bras, I researched other means of binding my chest. For the immediate future, buying commercial binders was out of the question. Instead, I settled on using Ace bandages. Each morning I’d wrap the elasticized cloth around my torso, pinning the end in place with my arm as I secured the little clips. This method had its drawbacks: The bandages would roll around the edges, leading to an oddly lumpy silhouette. And while I joked that it forced me to breathe from the diaphragm, I would sometimes feel short of breath when exercising or playing trombone. I never had trouble following the so-called “eight hour rule”; by the time my classes had ended for the day, I was more than happy to return to my dorm room and ditch the bandages while lounging in a baggy t-shirt.

In the middle of my junior year, I finally bought several binders from Underworks, one of several companies that sells these items. After the constriction of the bandages, the binders brought a new feeling of freedom, both physical and psychological. Instead of a tight band around the center of my chest, the binders spread the compression out over my entire torso, which meant no more unsightly bulges. Even better, the garments looked like an undershirt, which meant I no longer had to worry about what would happen if someone caught a glimpse of one. Best of all, I no longer wore a bra, which marked me as a girl, or a bandage, which implied I was damaged in some way.

I wore binders for four years. While never as uncomfortable as the bras and bandages, I still had to deal with a near-constant feeling of over-heating, particularly in summer. After I started hormones and my body began changing, the binders gradually became even less amenable. Testosterone combined with my workout habits to begin reshaping my chest even without surgery, which lead to chafing around my armpits and shoulders. I also had the fun of learning how it feels when hair grows in underneath such tight garments. Not binding was never an option: I couldn’t bear the sight of my naked chest for more than a few moments at a time, and hated the weight that hung off my body without support. However, the idea of wearing binders for the rest of my life never held much appeal, either. Like so many others, I sought a more permanent solution in the form of top surgery.

Even though it’s been over four years since I last bound my chest, I still think about how that experience shaped me, both psychically and physically. I worry that the Ace bandages in particular re-shaped my ribs in some way, and wonder what the consequences of that will be further down the line. I also worry about my trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming siblings who resort to even more dangerous methods of binding themselves. I sincerely hope that the Binding Health Project continues their good work, and that that work influences how the medical community helps others like me.

Some other me asserted his male identity as soon as he could speak.

Some other me still hasn’t publicly said, “I’m a guy.”

Some other me identifies as female.

Some other me has a body that aligns with their gender identity.

Some other me hid how smart he was in school, so he could fit in better.

Some other me came out in high school.

Some other me had multiple girl- and/or boyfriends before he turned twenty.

Some other me went to Homecoming and/or Prom, at least once.

Some other me never went to college.

Some other me went to a different college.

Some other me made it to Australia for that semester abroad.

Some other me actually had a relationship with Her.

Some other me made a career in musical theatre.

Some other me plays in a symphony.

Some other me works as a zookeeper.

Some other me got the job running the Teen Docent program at the museum.

Some other me never even worked there.

Some other me turned that long-term substitute teaching job into a full-time career.

Some other me got a job in Baltimore or Denver.

Some other me worked in a bookstore rather than go back to substitute teaching.

Some other me still works in the labs at the university.

Some other me got a part in a Star Wars movie.

Some other me makes his living as a novelist.

Some other me actually managed to tell a person that I loved them, and had them reciprocate.

Some other me already has a significant other and kids.

Some other me never had surgery.

Some other me never met my best friends.

Some other me never got over his social anxiety.

Some other me makes friends with everyone he ever meets.

Some other me cut off all ties with his pre-Transition past.

Some other me never left my hometown.

Some other me always has a plan, for everything.

Some other me randomly jumps on a plane or drives with no destination in mind.

Some other me has the privilege of moving wherever he wishes.

Some other mes have it better than I do.

Some other mes aren’t nearly so lucky.

“If I met [him] I would ask [him] that one question we both fear: Some other me, how’d we end up here?”


This summer has brought a lot of changes with it, and it got me thinking about many “what if?” scenarios. The title of this post and the quote at the end come from the song, “Some Other Me” by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey for their musical “If/Then”.

Even though I now live three-thousand miles away in the middle of nowhere, I’m still active in the trans community of my hometown. (Actually, it’s likely because I live in the middle of nowhere that I’m active in the community….) I maintain the Facebook page for the Initiative for Transgender Leadership, and communicate with several members of other trans and LGBTQ groups. When I’m home, I try to get to at least one event or get together. In between times, I keep updated on various goings-on via Facebook and online news sources. Back in April, an article ran about the local school district’s plans to unveil a district-wide transgender non-discrimination policy (NDP). Based on the policy that’s been in place at one high school since 2014, the district-wide version merely sets things out in a such a way that every school in the district can also be accommodating of students who don’t fit into the gender binary. Prior to voting on the policy, the school board announced a series of three public hearings where anyone could speak their opinions on this and other policies or issues before the board. The first two of these hearings took place while I was still in Alaska, so I had no chance of taking part. The last, however, took place just this past Monday.

Preparing for the hearing actually began the week before, when I called the office of the board to state that I wished to speak at the upcoming hearing. I had to give my name, where I lived, and the issue about which I’d be speaking. In return, the person I spoke with gave me my number (I’d be the 21st speaker of the night), told me I would have three minutes, and requested that I bring 15 copies of my remarks for the board members.

I spent most of Monday morning writing, crossing out, re-writing, and editing what I planned to say. (Three minutes doesn’t seem like a long time until you actually try talking for that long.) I then spent time that afternoon worrying about what to wear. Polo or button down? Short sleeves or long? Tie or no tie? I eventually settled on an outfit I frequently wore while substitute teaching.

The school board’s offices are in the same neighborhood as my grandparents’ apartment, the natural history museum where I once worked, and the main branch of the local library. Even though I speak in front of groups a lot, I still get nervous about it, so my original plan was to park the car and then hang out at the library for a bit before going to the meeting. On my way from the garage to the library, I passed a van that bore the name of a local Baptist church, which didn’t seem like a good sign. Turning the corner, I noticed a sizable crowd gathered outside the main entrance of the board building, and my heart sped up. Could all of these people be here to protest or speak in support of the NDP? Would I have to talk in front of them? Would there even be room for everyone at the meeting? Mostly concerned about this last question, and curious to hear what (I thought) the opposition had to say, I decided to forego the library and approached the group.

Within a couple of minutes, I discovered that the group gathered at the door, which included the church group, were actually there about a completely different matter: the recent hiring of a new superintendent. My nerves calmed a little at that point, but I still felt jumpy at the thought of speaking in front of all of these people, especially as the crowd continued to grow as the time of the meeting drew nearer. Fortunately, I did spot some friendly faces in the mass: The leaders of the local LGBTQ youth theatre group and several of their actors. When the doors finally opened, they and I positioned ourselves as close to the front of the line as we could. This turned out to be a good move: The security guard who opened the door said that due to the amount of people speaking (85!) and the fact that the building had no power, they would not be able to let everyone attend the hearing. Fortunately, the theatre group folks and I made it inside.

Public hearings are held in one of the conference rooms on the second floor of the building. According to family who have been to these things before, normally the public sits at one end of the room, the board members at the other, and anyone who is speaking stands on the floor in front of the board and uses a microphone. Due to the power outage, this set up was changed slightly: Members of the public sat at either end of the room, and the board members sat in the middle, facing the entrance along that wall. Said entrance had been blocked off to create a sort of podium so that any speaker could be heard by everyone in the room. After making sure everyone was ready, the Speaker of the Board explained the procedure for the night: People would be called on to speak in the order in which they had phoned in in the week leading up to the meeting. Copies of the complete list were available for the public. The Speaker would call people in groups of 6. Those called would head out into the hallway to wait their turn at the podium. In a speaker’s turn came, a board employee would take the copies of their statement for distribution to the board members. Once you started speaking, you had three minutes. A bell signaled you had about a minute left; a second bell meant your time was up. Due to the amount of speakers, there would be a short break after number 40. “Are there any questions? Then let’s begin.”

By now, I knew that not everyone was there to talk about the NDP. Several people spoke on behalf of a local charter school whose charter is up for renewal. Others spoke in favor of proposed renovations for another school. The majority spoke for or against the new superintendent. And several other people spoke about the NDP. As I listened to each speaker, I scanned the crowd to see their reactions on each topic. School renovations and charter renewals mostly garnered polite applause. Pro-new superintendent speakers got huge rounds of applause from their faction (which seemed to be the largest in the room), while those who want the board to re-open the search garnered less applause and the occasional “boooo!” Speakers on the NDP also earned a fair amount of applause, and no catcalls that I could hear. Soon enough, the Speaker announce my name, and I moved into the hall to get ready.

After handing the copies of my statements to the staff member, I paced a little as I waited my turn. I’d recognized some of my former coworkers in the crowd; what would they think when they heard me speaking? There were cameras from a couple of local news networks there; would my face be on the 11 o’ clock news?

Soon enough, it was my turn. I walked to the makeshift podium as the copies of my statement were passed to the board members. With a last look around the room, I looked down at my own copy of the speech, tucked my hands in my pockets so no one could see them shaking, took a deep breath, and began speaking:

Good evening. My name is Cee Jay L. I have a story to share with you. In February of 2012, I was hired by this district as a long-term substitute for a middle school science classroom. In March, as the [standardized tests] approached, I led a discussion on basic genetics with my 8th graders. One of the students asked about what makes a person a boy or girl. My initial answer focused on X and Y chromosomes, but several students quickly jumped in with questions about terms like, “hermaphrodite”, “transsexual”, and “he-she”. So I took a deep breath, tried to calm my racing heart, and walked the students through the differences between sex and gender, and what exactly makes a transgender person. One student vocally struggled with the thought of making such drastic changes to her body, so I asked her to think about it like this: “Imagine that you were born in the body of a boy. In your heart and mind, you know you’re a girl, but because of how your body looks society tells you that you are boy and you can only do certain things.” All of the students got thoughtful looks on their faces, and then the student who had asked the question stated, “That would suck!”

I admit, I breathed easier at that point. For you see, I am transgender. As an adolescent, I fell squarely in the middle of your definition for “gender expansive” students: a perceived girl, complete with an “F” on all the paperwork, who neither looked nor acted like the other girls. Fortunately, I had friends and teachers and administrators who worked with me to make my time in school an overall success. As an adult, I’ve worked with organizations like the Initiative for Transgender Leadership and THRIVE to ensure that more students like me have equally supportive experiences. So tonight I am here to show my support for the proposed Transgender Nondiscrimination Policy. As you can see, your students already get it. I encourage you to follow their lead. Thank you for your time.

Applause followed me as I returned to the hallway. Other speakers waiting there offered me smiles and congratulations. I thanked them and stepped off to the side to take a few deep breaths and calm my racing heart before rejoining the audience to listen to more speakers.

I’ve always been fascinated by mirrors. I remember playing dress up as a child, standing before the full-body mirror in my bedroom and admiring how I looked just like a superhero or Robin Hood or Peter Pan or a knight. Or I’d stand there in my regular clothes, pushing my hair behind my ears, trying to figure out if I looked like a boy or not.

It didn’t have to be a mirror. I’d catch sight of my reflection in the car window and become mesmerized by the features I saw there: brown eyes, bright smile. My eyes followed the way my nose curved, the way my ears joined with my jaw, which then melted into my neck. I’d look at my hair and wonder if it was short enough that other people would know I was a boy. I’d compare what I saw with the image in my mind, and feel confused when they didn’t match.

I remember watching in the mirror the day I finally got my hair cut short. Both my head and chest felt lighter as the brown locks fell to the floor.

Post-haircut, looking in the mirror brought joy. Especially with clothes on, my outside matched my inside for the first time.

Puberty turned my relationship with mirrors into a love/hate thing. I found myself spending more time in front of the mirror when I’d get dressed, checking that my clothes looked good and hid the curves that had started to appear. I also started avoiding mirrors when I wasn’t fully clothed, or made a point of using mirrors that only showed from the neck up. Looking at myself in a sports bra and pants wasn’t too bad, but looking at myself shirtless guaranteed a rising tide of dysphoria that would drown me if I wasn’t careful. Thankfully, the bathroom medicine cabinet was high enough that I could only see from the shoulders up.

In public, I’d constantly check my reflection wherever I could, whether the mirrored pillars in the department stores or the windows of buildings I walked past. I had to make sure that other people saw what I saw. Dressing room mirrors could alternatively be heaven or hell, depending on what clothes had to be tried on that day. New cargo pants? No problem. New t-shirt? No problem. New dress clothes? Problem. Big problem. As I tried on blouses and dress slacks, I couldn’t meet my own eyes in the mirror, because this was not me.

The love/hate relationship continued even after I began my Transition, although the love started to overcome the hate. I’d use the mirror every morning to check that the Ace bandages I initially used to bind weren’t obvious under my clothes. The switch to actual binders a year later made life even better. The first time I stood in front of the dressing room mirror as I tried on a men’s dress shirt and chinos, I could finally meet my eyes in the mirror. Starting testosterone meant that I spent a lot of time scrutinizing my reflection, trying to see if anything had actually changed yet. Was that facial hair? My shoulders seemed to be getting broader. And was that an Adam’s apple?

If at all possible, I still avoided mirrors when naked. The bathroom mirror at the house I lived in in college showed most of my torso; I trained myself to not look below shoulder-level. Once I had on underwear and binder, however, I had no problem catching a glimpse of my reflection.

As a student teacher and a sub, I spent a lot of time looking in the mirror each morning, making sure I’d tied the tie straight and checking that my shirt and slacks looked good. Even on the weekends now, I had no problems checking how I looked before going out, whether to my museum job or elsewhere.

June 2012 brought a huge change: top surgery. I remember looking at myself in the mirror a day or so after the surgery, trying to figure out how I’d look when the drains and dressings disappeared. A week after the procedure, I finally got to see how I looked shirtless as an adult. Even with the still-healing incisions and grafts and my chest shaved, I thought it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen.

Nowadays, I love mirrors. Six years of testosterone, surgery, and consistent exercise have helped me get a body that matches how I’ve always known I should look. I’ll happily watch myself shave, put on lotion after a shower, or get dressed for work or play. No matter what, I can meet my reflection’s eye and know that finally, the world sees what I see in the mirror.

I’m not sure I like the pound. The dogs bark a lot, and the sound echoes loudly off of the concrete floor and cinderblock walls. We’re looking for a new dog today. Both cocker spaniels have been gone for a while now. We came to the pound once before. That time, we took home a poodle named Pepe. He liked to play. He also liked to eat my action figures. Then he started biting people, and Mom and Dad brought him back. (As Mom will say in later years, “With two cats and two toddlers, we just couldn’t have a dog like that in the house.”) There’s an Old English sheepdog who looks nice, but Mom says he’s too big. She and Dad meet to compare notes, and Dad mentions a dog that Mom and I didn’t see. He leads us over to a kennel. Curled up in the back corner, paws over her nose, is a brown furball with bright black eyes. An attendant brings the dog to one of the little meeting rooms, and suddenly Cinnamon is all yips and wagging tail and kisses. We’ve found our new dog.

I blink

I’m standing at the corner, waiting for the school bus. Today will be the first time I’ve ridden one. I’m excited to start school. I know it will be more challenging than daycare and kindergarten were. The rumble of its engine precedes the bus over the hill. It pulls to a stop right in front of Dad and me. Printed in black, the designation “C 44” stands out against the bright yellow background. Dad gives me a hug as the door swings open. I bounce up the stairs and take a seat in the very front row; I want to see where we’re going! A couple of quick pictures, and then the bus pulls away. I’m on my way to first grade!

I blink

School ended a while ago, but I’m still sitting in the cafeteria. That’s where the after-school program meets. The teachers, Miss Lori, Miss Velma, and Mr. Dave, are nice; they feed us kids a snack and supervise and help with homework. Once homework is done, we can play games or run around outside (if it’s nice) or even sometimes watch TV. Said TV and VCR got wheeled out today; it’s another student’s birthday and he brought a movie to watch. The students and I gather around as Miss Velma pushes in the tape. After the usual title cards, blue words pop up on a black screen: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….” Exciting music comes out of nowhere, followed by words that crawl up the screen, describing how someone named Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet to rescue a friend from a gangster named Jabba. I read it all, not understanding much, but liking the sound of it. Then I see two robots in the middle of an argument. By the time Luke kills the rancor, I know I will love this movie for the rest of my life.

I blink

At first, I’m confused. Mom and Dad said we were going to go see Beauty and the Beast, but we didn’t go to a movie theatre. Instead, the four of us, Uncle J, Aunt S, and my cousins, drove up to Toronto. After checking us in to a hotel, we all changed into good clothes and drove to a very large building. We must have gone up some stairs inside, because the next thing I know we enter into a truly enormous theatre. It’s like the auditorium where I saw “Peter Pan”, but on a much larger scale. A kind person shows us to our seats located in the very front row of the balcony. The lights dim, the music starts, and the same voice starts, “Once upon a time…” Except this time, instead of stained glass, there are live people on the stage acting out the story. Several moments stand out in my memory: The old woman changing into the Enchantress, the wolves as they chase Maurice into the Beast’s castle, the Beast standing on the balcony of his castle as he sings, Belle and the Beast dancing together, the Beast’s transformation. That night, I fall asleep in the hotel bed dreaming of talking appliances and magic.

I blink

My family is back in Toronto. This time, we’re going to see two shows: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and The Phantom of the Opera. We spent the drive up listening to both shows, so I sort of know what to expect. Joseph was fun, but I’m looking forward to seeing Phantom this afternoon. I’m drawn in as the auction begins, and can feel my heart speed up as the auctioneer states, “Perhaps we may frighten away the ghost of so many years ago with a little illumination. Gentlemen!” The orchestra comes in full blast as the chandelier flares to life. I jump in my seat, but I’m grinning, too. This is going to be fun!

I blink

When I first interviewed for this job, I remember the HR people proudly informing me that their teachers stayed for an average of 4 to 5 years, one of the best retention rates in any rural Alaskan school district. That may be true, but they didn’t mention how frequently people move to new schools within the district. They also failed to mention how stressful March to May, hiring season, can be. For example: Nunap School started the year with 14 certified teachers on staff, plus a Dean of Students/Vice Principal and Principal. By the time April Fool’s Day rolled around, we knew that almost half of that number would be leaving. Both our Dean and our Principal are moving to other positions in the district, one is retiring, and everyone else has found or is seeking jobs in other districts, both in Alaska and back in the Lower 48. (In case you’re wondering, average teacher turnover here is normally 2-3 people per year.) As such, one of the main topics of conversation among the staff the past seven weeks has been who the new teachers might be. Some people are new to the district, like I was this year, while others are coming from other villages in the area. Falling into the latter category is Mick, who will be teaching high school English and social studies next year.

A friend of Lucas, Mick has been working for the district for two years now at one of the coastal villages. I first met him when he visited Nunap for a weekend at the beginning of this month. Yesterday, he arrived with all of his stuff, which will be stored here over the summer. Kelly and I joined him, Lucas, and Andy for dinner and visiting. Of course we all discussed our plans for the coming summer, which led in turn to stories of previous summer vacations. Predictably, Lucas and I began teasing Kelly a little about her trip to Thailand last summer, when her appendix ruptured. She’s fine, and happily tells the story; she’s more upset by the fact that the only sights she really saw were the hospital walls. At this point in the conversation, Mick wondered aloud, his posture and voice indicating a joke, “Was she a woman before she went on that trip?”

Immediately, I tensed up. It might be my imagination, but I’m pretty sure Lucas, Andy, and Kelly also felt the mood shift. After all, they all know that I’m trans. Before I could overthink it, I flat out stated, “Not cool.”

Mick kind of smirked at me, still trying to make his “joke” work. “Come on, what’s Thailand known for?”

“Still not cool,” I replied. My heart was pounding, and I could feel my hands shaking slightly.

Mick started to say something else, presumably to continue his defense of the “joke”, but Kelly spoke up. I couldn’t hear exactly what she said over the roaring in my ears, but it boiled down to, “People in this room know someone who’s trans, and that kind of statement is incredibly offensive.” Mick did apologize, and actually sounded sincere. It still took me a few moments to calm down to the point that I felt I could join the new conversation Kelly started.

That encounter has been on my mind ever since, for several reasons. I’m still unsure how to react to Lucas and Andy’s non-contributions to the conversation. Both sat there in silence as the exchange took place; I didn’t have a chance to speak with them before we all departed for the summer. I do appreciate that Kelly helped me out, and I texted later that night to let her know how much her support means.

The fact of the matter is, for many years my reaction in situations like these, where someone says something homo- or transphobic, was to sit there in silence. For years before I Transitioned, I’d get called “sir” or “young man”; it was when I was introduced to people as a girl or they learned that I was assigned female at birth that I’d get questioning looks (adults) or be teased (kids). Since starting hormones, I’ve been the beneficiary of “passing privileges”. As I’ve been assured repeatedly this year, people who meet me now can’t tell that I was raised a girl. I feared that raising objections to how some people speak would somehow out me and that I’d be right back where I started. Within the last couple of years though, I’ve come to realize just how ridiculous that type of thinking is. After all, the ally community is part of the reason that the LGBT rights movement has gotten as far as it has. So if someone thinks I’m only an ally, who am I to correct them? It’s more important to stand up for people’s right to be spoken of with respect than to protect my own privileges. (Also, the fact that I have “passing privileges” irks me. Just because I happen to look like a cisgender male, I’m entitled to all sorts of benefits? What a load of crap!) And while I need to work on my delivery, I fully intend to continue to call out tasteless “jokes” and other rude comments both in Nunap and everywhere else I go.