Trans is a very solitary path. The hardest thing about trans is doing it alone. To commit to the transgender journey is to commit to boldly being yourself, beyond easy group identification. Trans is a very queer, very individual process, claiming the song in your heart over the expectations placed on someone like you.
This means that trans is also a very stubborn path. To be visible as trans you have to be willing and able to act from your own truth even in the face of social pressure and stigma designed to keep you a compliant member of the group. You have to be able to face separation from others in order to express your own deep knowledge of who you are.
I don’t think you can be out and trans in the world without being very stubborn, without holding fast to your beliefs. Transpeople are not like dogs, wanting to join the pack, but are more like cats with their own personal agenda, and therefore as difficult to herd.
To be solitary is to be stubborn. Call us a rugged individualist or just a goddamn crackpot, but when we stand in opposition to convention, when we challenge the shared wisdom of the group, it takes some gumption, some fortitude, some stubbornness.
To come out as trans requires you to be able to shut out naysayers and attackers in the world. You have to stubbornly stick to your guns, believing that the choices you are making are the best for you. After a lifetime of trying to do it the conventional way, now you have to be disagreeable, holding onto to the “What The Fuck” and “Fuck You” power to move beyond stigma.
There is a cost to being stubborn, though. When I had another pounding infection, another health problem, I implored God to tell me why, oh why, I was having to suffer through this again.
I heard her answer clearly and succinctly. “Do you have any idea how stubborn you are?” she said. When I told that to my doctor, he tried not to laugh — they teach you not to laugh when a patient talks about revelations from God — but in knowing me, the answer struck him as very appropriate.
This is the problem with being stubborn, of course, that in stoically holding fast to your beliefs, you will sometimes miss the point when change, openness and softness is required. When nobody has your back, when nobody covers you when you take a moment to be vulnerable and engage change, when there is nobody you can trust to help you see where growth is needed, being stubborn can lead you to ruin.
Our stubbornness is our salvation, but like any gift, it is also our curse.
How do we find that balance of being stubborn enough to be boldly visible as ourselves in the world but still being openhearted and vulnerable enough to be able to learn and grow from our interactions with other people?
More than that, how do we do that without real support networks, real allies, real people who we can trust to sing our song back to us rather than just trying to get us to be less challenging and more to their liking?
My personal resistance to being visibly trans in the world was a resistance to the amount of stubborn, to the amount of armour that trans expression seemed to take. As a femme, it is vital to me to stay open and connected, able to engage and respond to people around me. I needed to be able to slip into their world to be there for them, as I did for my parents from when I was small until I eased their death.
I have seen many transwomen who are very visible, say in politics, who were successful as men in the military. Their determination and discipline served them well, but at a price. I was moved by a story on The Moth‘s Veteran’s Day special this year where a Marine talks about the moment when he was finally able to open to his emotions, finally able to be okay not to be okay. (There have always been transpeople serving in the military, just not visibly.)
I know that my own stubborn is both crucial for me and a great burden. Because I am so solitary I have no place to share and discharge my feelings with support, so I tend to stay battered and scarred. All I have to keep me pushing through what I need to do is my own stubborn. That stubborn, though, keeps me closed in, tight, and a bit bull headed.
The solitary life is the stubborn life and both have been required for trans emergence, at least in my lifetime. It is changing today as trans is less marginalized and stigmatized, more open and and accepted, but my experience still shapes me.
You see, I do have some idea of how stubborn I am. I just wish that sometimes, I didn’t have to be.