Note: For this edition of Prism I asked for submissions from several people. November is Transgender Awareness Month, and includes International Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20 as a memorial for those who have been murdered or otherwise harmed as a result of transphobia, and call attention to the continued violence experienced by the transgender community. I am grateful for this submission from Eli Michael, a Wrangell man who still finds ways to be involved in activism statewide through Skype and email with the Transgender Leadership Alliance.
By Eli Michael
Each one of us has a part of themselves that they would like to change, something that they may keep hidden or try to ignore. Maybe you hide a part of you, work to change it through diet, exercise, materials, or maybe you embrace it. Sometimes hiding works and sometimes it doesn’t. When it comes to changing one’s sex, many argue that sex is fixed, something you cannot change.
As a transgender man, I have struggled with this for many years. I grappled with changing my outward appearance to match what society’s perception of male is. My inner sense of self, the concept of ME, was not reflected by others. I identify as masculine and feel male, but society kept putting me in the female box. This incongruence became such an issue in my life that I could not function. I was ignored and treated as if I didn’t exist; I was denied as a person because people didn’t know how to interact with me.
Why couldn’t I learn to fit in? To behave in a way that was accepted? Why could I not express myself without being ignored? I tried. I tried being and acting female and male and finding balance. I am happier presenting and being identified as male. I tried to stop there. See, I didn’t hate my body. I didn’t insist to use male pronouns at the age of 3. I am a tomboy. And a twin. My parents worked hard at stressing that we were individuals and that we had our own interests and identities.
Gender does not come in boxes. We, as a society, have assigned genders to roles, appearances, and objects, expecting everyone to fit in one of 2 boxes. Gender is different for everyone; it is not simply male or female.
After two years of college, I began wondering and working a seasonal lifestyle; never staying too long and always trying new things. I was searching for and finding myself. During these years, I challenged what I knew about myself, including gender. I began dressing and appearing as male, like I did when I was younger. Then I started reading blogs and watching YouTube channels about other transgender males. I wasn’t sure if that was me or not. I struggled finding my authentic self and how I wanted to present myself.
As the years passed, I questioned myself more and more. I didn’t want to disappoint my family, risk losing family or friends, lose my job or my housing. I was afraid of being ridiculed at school, having unsupportive professors and unsure where to find support and guidance. But I was suffering, and it was affecting my home life. If gender is innate, why am I struggling to be me? Why couldn’t I just live the way I am? It was a constant internal argument that affected my everyday life and my ability to function as a human being in society.
I tried to love and accept myself how I was. Why change my appearance so that society could see me? I ran the risk of losing everyone important to me, my income and my housing and maybe my future. But eventually I decided to be me, my authentic and vulnerable self. By embracing myself and living as male, I came to love myself.
For me, in my experience, this decision is not only a choice to be happy, but a chance at life to be happy. I feel stable and present within my body. My mind is quiet and happy. I feel peace. And now when I look in the mirror, I am happy! I feel and look like me, the way I thought I would look. Others see me how I see myself and there is congruence.
From the outside world of people who do not question their gender or gender roles, this may seem somewhat extreme. For me, this is my life, my challenges and my journey in life. It is not always easy, but I accept it. I am me. And I am happy and free!