Arriving at the conclusion that I was trans and genderqueer wasn’t easy. It took a lot of introspection and exposure to other people who shared similar gender journeys. But once I made the plunge, I realized I still had plenty of things to learn about myself and about those around me. Here are seven things I’ve learned in my first year of coming out as genderqueer.
1) My name transition was surprisingly easy.
The choice to leave my legal name behind and adopt Karari was not an easy decision. I had been talking about it for months with close friends (although at the time I didn’t mention that I was also going to come out a trans/genderqueer). There was some push back, but mostly support. Most friends were concerned that Karari is so hard to say for people who do not use the alveolar tap often in their native language. They knew me well enough, and wanted to remind me that it sucks when people can’t/refuse to say your name right. Pronunciation issues aside, becoming Karari has been pretty damn awesome. Most (if not all) of the people in my life have been incredibly supportive and immediately made the effort to start calling me Karari. There are occasional slip ups, but one year in, I am happy to say that sometimes there are days when I don’t hear my legal name at all.
2) Nothing prepares you for the anxiety of having to come out as trans at work.
Living my truth and being Karari has been great and all, but it has also caused me a lot of anxiety. It’s one thing to ask your friends to respect your chosen name and pronouns, and something completely different to ask an employer to do so. When I transitioned into my name, I had initially decided that professionally I would remain my legal name and socially I would be Karari. That worked pretty well for a while. However, as nonprofit jobs are wont to do, the grant ended and I was forced to look for new employment opportunities elsewhere. I had been Karari part time for about 6 month already, and when an opportunity to work for an LGBTQ-serving agency popped up, I dove in and updated my resume to reflect my new name excited at the prospect of maybe being myself all day long. I didn’t get the job. But the most heartbreaking part was that I wouldn’t be Karari full-time. It was then I realized just how important it was to me to be called my name at work AND outside of work. So I left Karari on my resume and continued the job search. Eventually I found employment and was hired. But filling out the paperwork had me sweating. I prayed to all my trans ancestors in that moment because I just didn’t know how HR would take it. To be completely honest, I was prepared to concede and just go back to being my legal name if they refused to accept me as Karari. I just needed a job. Fortunately, the HR person was a lesbian and definitely trying her best to be trans competent. She did not say no when I asked if my ID and email could reflect my chosen name instead of my legal name. But just asking was overwhelming and I seriously do not know how I got the courage to do so.
3) My legal name has become incredibly triggering.
In the beginning, my legal names was still being used a lot by people around me. It was a very smooth, sharp knife that would occasionally be jabbed into a calf from time to time. I would bleed emotionally, limp a little, but since the cut was clean, it would scab over pretty quickly, at least until the next stabbing. Fast forward a few months, without all that usage, that knife has dulled and rusted and that skin has for the most part (minus some scarring) healed. As you can imagine by my rather graphic metaphor, hearing my legal name now hurts. A LOT. It can ruin my day. And having people outright refuse to call me Karari will transform me into a ball of rage (and by ball of rage I mean I will passive aggressively write about it on Facebook). This is definitely a new turn of events. I hadn’t realize until recently just how harmful it felt to not be acknowledged as Karari.
4) Dating while trans is … complicated.
For the purposes of my transition, nothing has really changed physiologically. I (currently) am not on t-blockers or hormones and (as of right now) I don’t really see that changing. So for the untrained cis eye (and sometimes to other trans people), I’m just some queen with surprising long hair. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t complicated my dating life. When presenting in Pinocchio mode (you know, look like a boy, but not a Real Boy. Get away from me with that wand Blue Fairy!), I obviously tend to attract cis gay/queer men. But upon realizing my penchant for high heels and makeup, they often make like the dodo and vanish. When presenting in my Full Queen Femme Mode, I inevitably attract a lot of trans-chasers, mostly cis straight men. But they too vanish when they realize I’m not their transsexual porn fetish fantasy and that for the most part I won’t shave nor ever feel compelled to wear impractical lingerie for their sexual pleasure. It leaves me with a sort of conundrum: either hide my femme in order to date queer cis men hell-bent on policing the queen out of all of us, or modify my body in order to live up to (cis male) expectations of what a transfeminine person is supposed to look like. Neither of those options seem viable to me. So for the most part, right now, I’m #5everalone.
5) “Not Trans Enough” is now a fear.
As a non-black transfeminine genderqueer of color, I will hold plenty of privileges over other folx who share my identity. “Am I taking too much space? Am I stealing resources?” These are obviously important questions to ask myself. (Answer: Probably tho, since I am not a trans woman. All Genderqueer people, especially transmasculine genderqueer folx, hold privilege over trans women even when our genders outside the binary aren’t fully understood or respected by society). But now that I have come out as trans, I am constantly concerned with being seen as trans enough to my trans siblings. Gender is of course a spectrum, and most (if not all) trans people know this. However, I still have an irrational (?) fear of being seen as someone who does not belong. It’s taken me so long to find what feels like home that now I’m terrified of being evicted! Additionally, it often feels like cis people’s respect for my gender and pronouns are contingent on me performing adequately what they envision “non-binary” to look like. Which (as you would imagine) sucks!
6) Fuck self-gender-policing.
On the flip side to the unrelenting fear of never being perceived as trans enough, I also feel so much more free to be a much more genderly complicated version of myself. Before I would feel pressured to dress femme — but still “male”– all the time in order to be read as gender non-conforming. In my head, I had even developed some complex equation to figure out if I was “too femme” (as if there’s such a thing!). If I had my hair down, I wouldn’t allow myself to wear lipstick. If I did wear lipstick and full face and wanted to wear heels, then I needed to wear clothes strongly gendered male and my hair up. If I wanted to wear that cute long black cardigan I just bought at H&M, then natural makeup only and no heels but hair could be down depending on pants. It was absolutely exhausting! Now as genderqueer, that same pressure doesn’t seem to apply as much. I know that I am just as genderqueer when I am in Full Queen Femme mode as when I am in Pinocchio mode. I CAN use they pronouns even if those pronouns don’t adequately perform cis notions of non-binarism. It’s awesome! Additionally, it’s allowed me to take my Full Queen Femme to a new level. I no longer care if I’m read as male or not. I will wear my hair down, beat my face, and rock my favorite heels–mental gender math be damned!
7) I have wonderful people in my life.
Ok, technically I already knew this. But coming out as genderqueer this year has demonstrated to me just how awesome everyone around me is. Everyone from the group of besties we affectionately refer to as the Bottom Caucus (or Coven, depending of how obsessed we are with Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett’s portrayal of witches in American Horror Story), to my wonderful and supportive friends at United Latin@ Pride, to all the new friends I’ve made and continue to make as I increase my involvement in trans community organizing through the Trans Oral History Project and the TransLatin@ Coalition. This year had shown me just how fortunate I am. I’m sure my gender journey is far from over (is it ever?) but I’m glad to be surrounded by so many folx who will stand by me every step of the way.