Understanding Trans Pain
There is something unique about the rejection of our existence that contributes to our pain.
One of the traumas of existing in this world can be the dismissal of our emotional pain. For trans people, this is a common theme in our lives: the insistence that we are responsible for our own pain — as if we chose it.
But we did not choose to exist in a world that hates us — you, non-trans people, chose to hate us and as a result, we struggle against the deeply internalized impulse to hate ourselves.
We are called freaks, snowflakes, “biological men” and “biological women”, not real, confused, sick, pathetic, and so many more things.
We are told, over and over, in small and large ways that we are not real. We are asked not to exist and literally killed for existing.
Whether it is the Family Research Council proclaiming that there is “no rational or compassionate reason to affirm a distorted psychological self-concept that one’s ‘gender identity’ is different from one’s biological sex” or Michelle Goldberg positioning trans existence in opposition to womanhood in the pages of the New Yorker or the bi-monthly op-eds in the New York Times questioning whether it is really wrong to feel uncomfortable around trans people, trans people are reminded that our bodies and lives are understood as a threat to others, a myth, something to be rid of or separated from.
Our identity is often written about with scare quotes — “gender identity”, “transgender” — and framed in opposition to something identified as real — biology, genetics, genitals. Every take on the realness of our lives, re-opens the deep and painful wounds we are daily trying to heal and embrace. Every take on our lives is a dismissal of our pain. Every debate over our existence is a rejection, compounding the lifetime of rejections and reinforcing the painful fear of our childhood selves that we are not worthy of life.
The statistics about trans lives are shared regularly — we face devastatingly high rates of employment discrimination, family rejection, school discipline and discrimination, homelessness, criminalization, suicidality, and incarceration. The rates are disturbingly higher for trans people of color, particularly women and femmes. But so often these statistics are just abstract numbers. What does it feel like to live them?
It feels like spending 30 minutes deciding where to go to the bathroom every single time you need to go. It means avoiding family events even where you are loved and accepted by your family because there are countless interactions with acquaintances that go something like “what happened to your other son?”, “didn’t you have two daughters”? It means spending years finding a home in your body only to be mocked by medical providers, questioned by strangers, rejected by lovers. It means being afraid that the more people write takes in the New York Times about trans lives, the more trans women will be murdered because society is continually validating the notion that it is okay to be angry that someone’s body doesn’t look how you might expect. It feels like worrying that someone will take your kid away from you because you are living your truth. It feels like anxiety that you will be fired, that you will be kicked at out of school, that you will be abandoned, or hurt, or killed because of who you are. It feels like so many things that no statistic could ever capture. It feels like a desperate cry to make it stop — to just for a moment feel the peace of getting to be your true, authentic, beautiful self without anyone judging you or questioning you or rejecting you or telling you that you are not real.
Please imagine the toll this takes.
So be an ally. Every day. Not just by sharing statistics or having a trans friend. But also by creating a world that rejects the idea that trans bodies and lives are anything other than the beautiful truths that they are.
When you are confronted with any public conversation about trans people, I urge you to do what author Imogen Binnie suggested a few years ago on Twitter: ask what the article/conversation would have trans people do. And “if the answer is something like ‘not be trans,’ please consider that most trans people have tried that and it didn’t work.” And if you are having a conversation in public or private that at its core is debating whether a person should exist, please re-consider the value of that conversation.
And to my trans family, I am sorry. I am sorry that we are living in a world that does not yet appreciate our beauty. I am sorry that you are hurting. I am also hopeful. I am also proud. I am also so grateful to be trans and to be with you in this community.
I don’t believe in tipping points or representation as revolution but I believe in you. I believe that you exist and that you are beautiful. I don’t know your pain or your trauma but I know my own and I am here to hold the truth of yours.
If you are hurting, tag another one of us in, let us sit by your bed or with you on the floor or on the other end of the phone. Or when you are alone with yourself, think of all the rest of us, loving you in our pained but beautiful corners of the universe. The truth is, we exist because we have collectively fought to be here. Our truth is more powerful that all of the hateful rejections.
I will choose every day to keep loving you and fighting for you.
Trans Lifeline can be reached at (877) 565–8860 in the U.S. and (877) 330–6366 in Canada.