Allowing Experimentation

Photo and Article By E.S. Wynn

Author's Note: This photo feels almost like a baby picture to me. I took it when I was first exploring my trans identity a few years ago, and first starting work on my personal battle jacket.

It can be really difficult to live a life without judging others. I’d even venture to say that it might be near impossible to never judge anyone for anything. We can work on it, strive toward an ideal of empathy over judgment certainly, but I think even that is a practice, a constant journey that we never really complete.

But judgments also come in many forms, some of them more dismissible than others (or even accepted in certain communities.) At some point in our lives, we’ve all looked at someone trying to find their own look, trying to find their own way in the world, and had a reflexive, negative gut reaction to what we’ve seen. It’s normal, and though I’m working on being more empathetic and understanding, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had that kind of reaction many, many times in my life. I’ve looked at the actions and external manifestations of others’ attempts to discover and define themselves and I’ve had powerful, negative gut responses to them.

The ironic thing is that, in every single case, I’ve always been the only one affected by my reaction.

Allow me to digress with a story. When I turned twenty-one, a number of my friends and relatives offered to take me out and get me drunk for my birthday. It’s like a rite of passage that most people I know have jumped at the chance to go through with. Myself, I turned every one of those offers down and went out for a nice sushi dinner with family instead. I’d seen so many people make utter fools of themselves while sloshed and had heard so many stories of things people had done while drunk that they could never live down that I had no interest in drinking anything alcoholic ever. As far as I was concerned, booze was for losers who didn’t care about ruining their own lives.

Just before I turned twenty-two, my life fell apart in a major way for the first time. Literally everything I had built up until that point, everything I had traveled halfway across the country to secure blew up. I was stranded with heavy debt, a broken heart and no place to shelter except the guest room on my mother’s farm. Again, friends offered to take me out and get me drunk, and again, I declined, but this time there was a certain desperation, a certain feeling of being at rock bottom, with nowhere else but up to go.

That was when I tried alcohol for the first time. I went out to the store, bought a big bottle of the cheapest vodka I could find and wandered around the farm sipping it on a hot summer’s day. I chose that day because I knew I would be alone. I knew I could make an utter fool of myself and no one would know about it. In the end, it makes kind of a funny story. I made myself a “White Russian” out of skim milk and vodka, and drank enough of that horrible concoction to get a little shaky and bleary, and then I went to bed. End of story. No one else was around to witness (or judge) my brief period of self discovery.

In all the time since then, I’ve gone through years of total sobriety, years of heavy drinking and have leveled out at a place where I have a cocktail with friends about four times a year. It’s easy, comfortable, and I have no issues or judgments around alcohol anymore. I look at college kids getting wasted on jungle juice and I laugh at their antics, but there’s no judgment. They’re discovering themselves, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

So how does this relate to my experiences as a transgender person? Well, like with my experience with discovering alcohol, my experience with discovering my identity as a trans person has been largely conducted behind closed doors, where I cannot be observed or judged. In researching and exploring to understand my own experiences with gender dysphoria, I have run across so many images of transwomen bravely putting their faces out there online to be seen as they begin to discover themselves, and even still, I sometimes get skeeved out. I hate it, and I’m working on it. I ask myself what my problem is and I think the clearest answer is “do people see me that way when I wear a wig and eyeliner? Do people have the same kneejerk negative reaction and think I look weird and wrong?” Maybe. I’m sure there are quite a few people who do. I know for a fact that there have been people who have been totally skeeved out by me when they’ve seen me out in public with full gear on. I’ve seen the change in facial expression, the realization in passing and heard the comments. It sucks, but I’ve gotten really good at shrugging it off because I know I’ve got my look down as good as I’m going to get it down. I’ve done everything I can do. This body is simply male, and there’s no way to hide that completely, from myself or anyone else. It shouldn't be an issue at all, but I address that in my article On Passing.

The level of confidence and security I have currently comes from my own patterns, and that’s the jist I’m slowly working toward with this article. I mostly perfected my look behind closed doors, hiding who I am until I was secure enough in the fact that I’d done everything I could do to make myself as immune to judgments as I possible. When I see someone who was born male just starting to discover herself, taking her very masculine body and strutting in stereotypically female fashion with hot pink dresses and blond bob wigs, it can be physically painful, and there’s a whole host of my own issues behind that, like a knot of extension cords I’m working to untangle (and I'm committed to working on ironing out those issues, because anything less would be hypocritical, sexist and all around shitty.) I hate that I find myself wishing they would just hide themselves behind closed doors until they’ve finished discovering themselves and have cemented who they are, but the thing is, there is no right or wrong way to discover yourself. Some people do it openly and in public from the very beginning, and that’s okay. It’s actually transphobic to feel like they make the rest of us look bad, (especially when the standards for "looking good" are so oppressive and insane) and that’s one of the issues I’m working on myself. We, all of us, have to allow people the space to discover themselves in the ways that work best for them. We have to pull at the threads of society as much as we can until anyone can go out in public wearing anything and people only absorb it or appreciate it, instead of being skeeved out by it. There’s honestly no reason to be judgmental toward another person’s way of expressing themselves. Discovery starts basic and takes time, and can sometimes be a phase, but never at any point in that growth should we judge the way a person chooses to express themselves or identify. Every transwoman has stood in front of a mirror with her first bra and a cheap wig, trying to see if womanhood is right for her, and what it means for her, what kind of woman she’ll mature to be. It’s part of the process. We need make a conscious effort to work on our own judgments and learn to be as supportive of everyone as we can, especially in their most vulnerable periods of self-discovery. That’s just plain human decency.

If you have a story about your own experiences as a trans individual or would like to be interviewed so that you can share your perspectives as a trans person with the readers of this blog, please feel free to contact me through the contact form here: [link]. Make sure you have javascript enabled or the form will just display a blank page. I’d love to hear from you, and I’d love to share your perspective with our readers. Thank you!

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