Autumn Interview #3, February 2016

“Coming out makes you feel so much more comfortable. You don’t have to devote so much energy to curbing your every emotion and aspect of your personality. You are able to focus on what you are doing. I feel like I have become a much better writer than I was before I accepted I was transgender. I am much more confident and don’t feel detached from what I am learning about. It’s just me making those points. I feel passionate about what I am learning; it makes it so much easier to write.

It is hard for transgender people who must go to the emergency room, even in blue states. They are often harassed by the very people who are treating them. It is unbelievable, shocking, especially because you’d think that nurses and especially doctors had seen it all. The situation in hospitals as to where to put a transgender person, in a male or female room, is akin to the bathroom situation. Its almost like those decisions are made to avoid any unpleasant situations. Transgender people are made to bear a huge amount of discomfort themselves just so everybody else doesn’t have to deal with it.

Can I see both sides of the issue? I try to be understanding so that I can be at peace with myself, so that I can talk with cisgender people better, not feel as hurt, but there are so many people who do not understand the transgender person’s side. I am reminded of my best friends’ reaction. They asked why they should have to accept it. They hoped I would take their rejection in the spirit of how baffled they are. And that’s the one aspect that I just can’t get over. They are asking me to understand their lack of understanding of me.

There is a social group of transgender students at Rutgers, but unfortunately it consists predominantly of undergraduates. They are all at least 10 years younger than me so there is a disconnect between us. It is hard too because when transgender people can ‘pass’ they don’t want to identify as transgender, only as the gender that they are. It’s difficult as a result to establish the critical mass for such a group. I have not been able to establish relationships with other transgender people, but I have established a good social network at my school and my relationships with other people have become so much better.
Overall I have been feeling pretty good, but you deal with a lot of crap day in and day out. Not overt stuff but just subtle things. Even at as liberal a place as the School of Public Policy you still hear some very ignorant things. I’ll be in a conversation getting to know someone and they’ll ask, ‘what do you think about the show Transparent,’ as though being transgender is the most important thing about me. And I was misgendered by a professor several times in a class. He knew my name is Autumn and he saw me in dresses often. But when you are referred to several times as “him” in front of the other students you feel like crap. I emailed him and he apologized, but I got a bad feeling from him that I couldn’t pin down. It is really difficult when I have to put up with this all the time in the outside world, and then too in a place that is supposed to be a safe place. Several people complained to the administration that a transgender person is using the woman’s bathroom. What am I supposed to do? Pee in the alley?

When I first started transitioning, I was so happy because of my own self-acceptance, but now that it has become an accepted fact, I want to tackle outside issues and stand up for myself. For a lot of LGBT people, when they come out, sticking up for themselves becomes such a fundamental part of their role. There is certainly a time when vigilance becomes counterproductive, but at the same time, if you are in the majority, the white person or cisgender person or a male, you sometimes act as though you are the one being persecuted or ignored. Its never just one thing, it’s the sum of everything. The hostility that still pervades the culture, that’s what I am angry about, not just one person. You always have to keep one eye over your shoulder.

What does it mean to me, ultimately, to be female? That’s a huge question. I don’t think there is any one answer. In my case it has to do with my expression, how I see myself when I get up in the morning. Although my body is male, my soul, my spirit, my brain is female. It just feels natural and appropriate, the female side of things. But also, it’s on a spectrum, not always a completely binary thing. Gender can be a matter of expression, a matter of identity, a matter of roles. A lot of feminists feel like we should move beyond the concept of gender. I just feel like I am authentic when I express myself this way. Identity is so abstract, really difficult to pin down.

There is a transgender scientist by the name of Julia Serano who talks about how society is oriented toward masculine qualities. Even within feminism there is a hesitation to emphasize any feminine qualities. It is difficult for men who want to do things in stereotypically female ways; there is so much hostility toward it. It seems like sensitivity and warmth and empathy, even though we say they are good things, aren’t emphasized as much as being self-reliant and independent and strong.

I can’t help wanting my hair to grow longer. I can’t help wanting to wear skirts. I can’t help wanting to congregate with women socially. I can’t help feeling that I am more comfortable expressing myself as a female. I feel seen when people see me socially in the female role. It is a moving target, and its ever morphing. But there still is that polar male/female dichotomy. When people see me as a man I feel hurt. Other transgender people have their own feelings about what it means to be a woman or a man. And everyone is entitled to their feelings.

In the beginning of my transition I saw more of the big picture. I was blind to some of the more subtle ways that prejudice is ingrained in people. A lot of people understand in the abstract what transgender is but they haven’t processed it fully. There are still of lot of contradictions in their thought process and a lot of ways they don’t get it. It’s tiring to feel like you have to be your own advocate day in and day out.

I do think of myself in many ways beyond transgender. I’m a baseball fan. I’m from the Northeast. I’m a relatively liberal person. I’m a huge history buff. So I can spend a good part of the day not thinking about myself as a person who is transgender. It has helped me a lot to see transgender issues as being on a spectrum, not just a black-and-white issue.

I worry that I will have difficulty finding a job because while people profess to be open, they might not really, and more broadly I am worried that while people may be personally comfortable, they might worry about having a transgender person on staff. Will it alienate clients or hurt their business? Make it difficult to work with community members or other stakeholders? I feel like if I don’t’ educate people about what I go through, people will remain ignorant and be oblivious.”