Being transgender is not as simple as just “being yourself”

Alex Rand

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The author of this story chose to remain anonymous for safety reasons detailed below.

 

Let’s make one thing very clear right off the bat; I’m genderfluid (my gender identity varies over time). This is a highly personal post. What I’m saying almost definitely won’t hold true for every transgender person out there, but even if it doesn’t that is absolutely not an excuse for people to disregard the whole thing.

Today, when I left school and started my walk to the bus stop, there was a man with a megaphone standing in front of the school. As a crowd of high school kids exited the gates, he began yelling into the megaphone.

There aren’t many possible reactions to have when you’re confronted with someone unexpectedly screaming, “If you are gay, you are going to hell! If you are transgender, you are going to hell! If you are suicidal, it is because you are gay!” at you through a megaphone. I’m not at all above saying that on the bus home, I daydreamed of what would happen if I’d tackled him like I wanted to. However, as I watched him, I wasn’t really capable of doing more than walk away with my head down in numb horror. My whole body shook for hours afterwards, even as I thought of what would have happened if I’d had the confidence to confront him.

When I came home, I got into a conversation about coming out with someone who didn’t know about what I’d heard. I told them I was afraid to come out to too many people; their advice to me was, “Just be yourself! It’s not like too many bad things can happen, and if someone gets upset because of that then they aren’t your friend.”

People like that preacher are the reason I chose to leave my name off this story. As much as I’d love to be who I really am on campus, I do not feel safe doing that.

I’m very lucky. When I came out to a few people, the reactions I got were almost all positive. Most people were very supporting. I know I could have it much worse than I do, but when well-meaning support could put me in serious danger, something needs to be said. Whenever I express concern for my well-being or bring up coming out to people, one person consistently tells me the exact same thing– “Just be yourself!”

This person doesn’t know better than to say that, and I know that they have my best interests at heart when they tell me to do that, but that’s a very, very dangerous piece of advice. The simplest way I can explain why is through quoting this post written by Tumblr user queerteddy:

“…Often you’ll get encouraged to just go out and “be yourself,” as though being transgender is the same as wearing odd socks or liking a really obscure television show.

“Being transgender is an every day struggle and it doesn’t stop being a struggle… because being misgendered is like being physically struck every time someone addresses you by the wrong name or pronouns. It’s not, ‘Oh you don’t like my socks,’ or, ‘You don’t like that TV show either,’ it’s, ‘Oh, that’s right, you don’t perceive me as who I actually am.'”

That’s only the mental toll it can take on a person, however; all too often news stories appear describing trans youth that committed suicide because of the way people treated them once they came out, or describing trans people who were severely injured or even murdered simply because they were trans. These victims had tried to ‘just be themselves’ until someone decided they didn’t like that.

If a transgender person is talking to you about this, it is okay to admit that you don’t have advice to give. It’s okay to admit that you don’t know enough about what they’re going through to give advice. Moreover, unless the person specifically asked for advice, it’s okay to not give advice at all. What isn’t okay is to give advice that puts someone in danger. If your only advice to someone is, “Just be yourself,” you need to admit that you don’t know how things can be helped. But putting people in danger just so you can feel better about giving advice on something you don’t know about is not okay.

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