Writing joy into the transgender narrative
The mainstream narrative is that we all hate our bodies, but many of us regularly experience gender euphoria
This is a personal essay by Josephine Kroeker, a transgender woman from Saskatoon who is a baker and stay-at-home mom.
Pride weekend in June 2019, my partner and I had sent the kid to the grandparents' and gone dancing with friends. As the night wound down, I had tied my button-down shirt into a kind of crop-top, which happened to accentuate my breasts, something I've always been self-conscious about. But instead of feeling shame, I felt joy when I later saw myself in a group photo.
What if I thought of my breasts as breasts instead of "man boobs" or whatever derogatory name I have referred to them as in the past? What if I actually embraced my curves, instead of lamenting that I would never have "manly" pecs or a six-pack?
This kind of questioning is often referred to as the point when one's 'egg cracks.' My identity as a transgender woman was finally ready to emerge after 38 years.
At one point while visiting friends early in my gender journey, I was talking about an experiment I'd done with my gender expression.
"And how did you feel?" one friend asked.
"Really good!" I replied.
"You should listen to that feeling" was her response — advice I've been doing my best to follow ever since.
The mainstream trans narrative is that we all hate our bodies and are tortured by gender dysphoria all of the time. While this is likely true for some, it is by no means the universal experience; many of us are proud of who we are and experience joy — gender euphoria — on a regular basis.
This doesn't mean there aren't hard times — there are — but those darker experiences and feelings about our bodies or gender presentation are tempered with the light of joyful interactions and feelings of euphoria.
Kroeker joined her daughter one day in drawing comic books. Her creation explains part of her transgender journey:
I have always struggled to fit within society's expectations of what it means to be a "man." None of these expectations — being sporty or being tough and hiding your emotions — ever seemed to feel comfortable. Eventually I accepted I wasn't a 'typical' guy. I thought that this discomfort with my assigned gender was a normal thing for people and that I just had to accept it.
Growing up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I didn't see trans people depicted in a positive light, if they were depicted at all. More often than not films and television shows depicted trans people, especially women, simply as punchlines to jokes, as 'men' who fooled other men into believing they were women. The men's reactions were most often some level of disgust.
I grew up in a small, conservative, religious town in southern Manitoba. No one ever explicitly told me there were only two genders, but they didn't need to say it; it was implied in the way we as a society conducted ourselves.
Children's rights activist Marian Wright Edelman said, "You can't be what you can't see." I didn't see any openly transgender people growing up, so I didn't know that people could even be a different gender than the one assigned to them at birth.
There were glimpses of my trans identity when I was younger, most notably in my occasional prayers for God to make me a woman, even just for a day, to see what it would be like.
But it really all really started a year and a half ago with a dress.
A few weeks before my egg cracked, I had decided I wanted to reintroduce some more feminine clothing into my wardrobe. I had often worn skirts in university and found that I frequently preferred the cut and style of 'women's' jeans, so it wasn't so far out of my comfort zone, but I had never worn a dress.
I went to a local vintage shop. I was so nervous. As I anxiously clutched my finds to my chest, trying to be inconspicuous in the empty store, a staff person came up to me and asked, "Would you like me to start a change room for you?" It was a gift, honestly, for that person to assume the feminine clothes in my arms were for me, without judgement. It was a revelation.
Another revelation was with regards to language. As I started to question my gender more, I attended support groups, where it was common practice for people to offer their pronouns when introducing themselves. ("Hi, my name is Josephine and my pronouns are she/her.")
I had never done this before and I wasn't sure which pronouns fit me best, so I started off choosing three of the most common today: he/him, she/her and they/them. As time went on, I realized I never really felt comfortable identifying as a man. This label had always felt awkward, which I just assumed was how all men felt, having no reference to any alternatives. So, I dropped the he/him after a month or so, introducing myself with they/them and she/her as my pronouns.
Before I was out to everyone in my life, some friends used the term "girl" in a playful, friendly way when referring to me. It sent warm shivers through my body.
When I started questioning my gender, I thought I might be non-binary. I wasn't sure if I wanted to take hormones or if I wanted any surgery, but I knew I wasn't a man. Could I really claim "woman" as my gender? The more I spoke with those around me about how good it felt to be referred to as a woman, the more my community helped me see that "woman" was in fact where I had always belonged.
Throughout this journey I have been so lucky to have strong support from family, friends and, most importantly, my partner, Heather. It is a sad reality that when trans people come out within a committed relationship, that relationship often ends. Throughout the darkest points of this journey, we've been vulnerable and honest with one another. We are able to say we love and choose each other.
Our child is an awesome five-year-old. She likes "putting on makeup," which for her usually involves drawing on her face with (thankfully) washable markers. As I began to experiment with makeup, we bonded in a new way over the joy of adding bright colours to our eyes and lips.
It has taken me nearly four decades to come to a place of peace with my trans identity; to be able to come out not only to my family and friends, but to myself as well. There are times when I wonder what would have happened if I had come out sooner. But if it had happened differently, earlier, I wouldn't have the friends I have and I wouldn't be married to Heather. The happiness I feel now, being who I am and feeling supported and embraced by those around me, would not have been available earlier. Now is the time.
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