By Jen Harris
SOUP offers a content warning prior to every column, as the subjects discussed herein may be triggering for some readers. Please proceed with caution. If you would like to try a grounding technique for triggered moments, here is a personal recommendation.
The trouble with transitioning is, I’m not a man. When I look in the mirror, I cannot imagine I could look more like my father, though I know a beard would do the trick.
My reflection has never offered me access to someone I know. The trouble with transitioning is this body is read “woman” in ways I am not. I look like my mother from the earlobes down. I have long belabored audiences with my surprise at the arrival of these breasts. At every pap smear (and the occasional OOPSIE! STI panel), I have asked how to pursue a hysterectomy and a double mastectomy. When I started asking (about 20 years ago), the word transgender had not reached me or mainstream culture. I did not know what I was asking, who or how to ask, I just remember the energy required of asking the questions. It required that I muster courage summoned from my invincible core. Like when a person lifts a car to free someone trapped beneath, that level of spiritual adrenaline was the driving force and no less would suffice.
It is unparalleled, the vulnerability present when a person asks the gatekeepers permission for the removal or alteration of their bodies sex characteristics, especially while shivering in a sterile room, ass hanging out of a paper gown. What’s even more stunning is how much colder the room gets when the No’s are delivered.
“That’s not possible without a medical reason.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“Don’t you want kids?”
“You’ll want kids when you’re older.”
“You just haven’t met the right person yet.”
“You’ll change your mind.”
“You don’t want to deal with menopause, trust me!”
“…but you’re such a pretty girl. Do you know how many women I treat who would kill for…” motions toward my breasts.
Imagine tumors start to grow on your body. When you first get to the doctor, breathless and panicked, they reassure you, “It happens to everyone.” You leave feeling like just yesterday, not a single person you knew had tumors like this, but sure enough, the doc is right. It does happen to everyone. Everywhere you look, small tumors, big tumors. Tumors flaunted, celebrated, monetized. Tumors shamed, assaulted, violated. Tumor parades. Tumor restaurants. Tumor clothing lines. Tumor picket signs. Tumor debates. Free the Tumors! Some people’s tumors never materialize so those people pay thousands of dollars to get tumors and all the while, building from a whisper to a fire alarm, you’ve been trying to communicate that you are so happy most everyone else seems to love tumors but you hate them, on you, only on you, and would you just, pretty please? LOVE to have the tumors removed. Just a little snip and stitch and you’ll be on your way.
You are told NOo. The door is slammed in your face and shame casts a shadow that echoes your humiliation and confusion. Why can’t you just love your tumors?
Because you don’t.
It’s really that simple.
As a person assigned female at birth (AFAB), I have never known what it’s like to have bodily autonomy. Assigned male at birth (AMAB) counterparts are hailed heroic for getting vasectomies that are available as an outpatient procedure and covered by insurance. They’re practically crowd-surfed though a sea of adoring fans for wearing pink, yet I have no choice. The options I’m presented with are: exist within the gender assigned to me, by the body that defines me.
The trouble with transitioning is, I am not dysphoric nor am I in physical pain, so, what am I then? Some sort of gender dissenter? I want to live out my days peacefully distant from this binary system, be it at the center of this spectrum or on one of my own creation. The only way to achieve such peace is to decry my very own flesh and blood rather than rightfully blaming the system designed to make autonomy inaccessible to transgender people.
They want me to be happy in my own skin, or at least the kind of unhappy that stirs the economy. They want me to celebrate my red lips and wide hips and big tits. They tolerate that I don’t shave my legs, only my head, but they wanna know why, if I don’t want to be a man, why do I wear a strap in bed?
Gender presentation isn’t as simple as one or the other.
There is nothing wrong with me, but I have to pretend there is to create a body that scrambles catcalls and confuses night stalkers. There is nothing wrong with me, but I will pretend there is to get what I need. The trouble with transitioning is, everyone’s free to make decisions about my body except me. So I made the appointments to masculinize my feminine body and when it is all said and done, I will still have the audacity to call myself a womxn.
Poet Jen Harris (she/they) is a creative entrepreneur & performance artist. Her ongoing community projects include The Writing Workshop KC & Kansas City Poetry Slam. Featured on NPR, TEDx, Button Poetry, Write About Now Poetry & Netflix Queer Eye, Harris is the author of 3 books of poetry, confessional assortments of her queer life in America.