My Story – A Trans Femme, Agender Tale

image.gifA week ago I decided to come out to all my friends on Facebook even prodding to see if I got a reply from people I wasn’t sure of. This is the letter followed by observations about the response:

Dear Friends,

As most of you know in late Summer of 2014 I began a gender journey. All my life I had felt insecure about my gender. There were a number of opportunities earlier in my life to look at my own gender identity. In the second half of my Junior year in high school at Pine Tree Academy I boarded with a local dentist and his wife. They had a daughter a few years older than me in college where she stayed in a dorm. As the dentist and his wife worked I often had a couple hours every now and then when I was alone. I discovered the daughters wardrobe or at least the part she left at home. I tried the clothes on and remember feeling that this was more than simple curiosity. Meanwhile at school there were a couple bullies who had made comments and shoved me when they knew no one could see them. At the end of the year I passed around my yearbook for signatures. Two of the entries were quite hateful. One used “gay” as an insult and the other called me a “faggot.” So come Senior year I made it a point to butch it up a bit, (appear more masculine), to avoid the bullying.

After graduation I left for college at Atlantic Union College in Massachusetts. In my first year there I met up with 3 or 4 gay guys. One of them was gender non-conforming, I became friends with him and had chats with him in the dorm stairwells where we found a measure of privacy. One memorable night he even took me and a couple others to a gay club. This was the fall of 1975 and my young mind was just overwhelmed by the experience. We continued to share secrets and concerns with each other. I came out as being attracted to guys and he shared both some of his exciting weekend encounters and his sadness at not being able to reconcile his sexual orientation with the church’s beliefs. Soon Winter break came and we went in different directions. As the break ended I was informed of something pretty horrific. My flamboyant gay friend had committed suicide. I was scared, sad, confused and determined to keep my secrets hidden which I did until 1987.

I came out as gay in February of 1987, thirty years ago. I quickly got involved with the community. I began working with people with HIV/AIDS (PWA), devising outreach programs and assisting PWAs secure services and support. During that time I heard a sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Church by a guest preacher who ran the denomination’s LGBT Program. He quoted Harry Hay, an early gay rights pioneer and founder of The Radical Faerie movement. What he said really struck a cord because his belief was that gay and lesbian people were different then straight people not just in the choice of sexual partners but also in our gender expression. The belief was that people like me were shamans, magicians and priests who stood between men and women and helped heal stresses and misunderstandings between men and women. I thought that I had found the answer.

During this time I got to know several transgender individuals beginning in the late ’80s. They were for the most part trans women and while I didn’t feel completely like a man, I didn’t feel completely like a woman either. So, while I felt an affinity with my trans friends back then, their gender identity didn’t match up with how I was feeling. By this time I had entered a relationship which became quite well known given our willingness to open up to the press. In an effort to be attractive to my partner who like hairy guys known as “bears” in gay subculture, I grew a beard stopped trimming hair off my body and became a bear, at least on the outside. I really grew to hate how I was frequently read – many presumed I was hyper masculine and probably into leather and S&M. I was really repulsed by that idea. I kept this a secret and our relationship weathered lots of challenges that came our way unitil August of 1996. On that date, for several different reasons, my partner and I changed our relationship from partner to close friend.

In 1996 I came to New Mexico and continued to work in HIV/AIDS work, focusing on prevention. As a way of deflecting presumptions about my masculinity I grew my
hair out and declared myself a fairy bear which sometimes morphed into a “care bear.” I got to know some wonderful Trans people here and learned a lot from them, particularly a couple Dine’/Navajo trans women who shared the ancient wisdom passed down by their elders about genders beyond male and female.

By 2009 my disabilities, symptoms and medication side effects made it difficult to work. Eventually I was declared disabled and left work. I began searching the internet for information that would answer the lifelong confusion I had about my gender. I began to see talk of genderqueer individuals. At first it didn’t click with me because all I observed were individuals who were assigned female at birth. Finally a news story changed everything. I happened on a news story about a hate crime that occurred in California. I’ve shared the story many times so I will just lay out the facts. A high school student who identified as agender, (who had been assigned male at birth), was riding home on a bus and had nodded off to sleep. A boy sitting nearby who thought it would be a practical joke to set the person’s skirt on fire. The agender student sustained serious burns on his legs and their story, (many agender individuals prefer people use a singular version of they as their pronoun), made local and national news. In response the community rallied round them. The high school the agender individual attended had an event where most students and teachers in the school wore skirts for a day to show their support. Other schools and groups honored diversity and showed their support in other ways. This story, particularly the explication of what an agender and genderqueer person was, really meant something special to me.

I continued to explore, I came out as trans/agender on my blog. I will not rewrite what I already have in my blog. If you haven’t read it leave a comment and I’ll give you a link. After this gender journey I’d been taking on my own I felt the need to connect with others. I discovered a trans support group here in Santa Fe and went to my first meeting. I wasn’t sure I’d be accepted but that fear soon left as I was warmly welcomed. Soon I became involved in the group and helped out with a website and a Twiiter account. I also help facilitate meetings now and then. I have met so many wonderful trans men, trans women and nonbinary/genderqueer individuals. I have learned from their stories and continued to engage in self reflection.

I am very grateful to all the people I have met on my journey. Everyone of you has played a part in my life and your kindness and knowledge have been very important. I now identify as a trans femme, agender, nonbinary/genderqueer person, but if it’s easier for you to remember you can call me transgender.

I am part of the trans community, a community that is now under siege. I consider the trans community as a very large extended family. When a black trans woman is murdered it breaks my heart, when someone is bullied and tormented so often they consider suicide I am deeply saddened. I also am dismayed that some on the right have reduced our community to mythological bathroom predators. I want my trans men and trans women friends to be free to use the facility that aligns with their gender identity and I, along with other nonbinary trans people want to have a gender neutral restroom available. Just like you all we want to do is take care of business, wash our hands and leave. We’ve been doing this for years without a problem. It’s simply a fact that after losing the marriage equality battle the religious right aimed their sights on trans folk. A mythology was created and occasional incidents involving cis men were woven into the tale. I promise you we aren’t putting ourselves in further danger by lingering in the bathroom one second longer than necessary. It’s trans people that are the victims in some bathrooms. Bullies in schools are on the lookout for anyone who isn’t their idea of normal. So it’s trans students, gay and lesbian students and gender non-conforming cis students who get verbally and physically attacked. This needs to end now! I am proud to be a member of the trans community. This community has changed my life and made it meaningful again. If you don’t understand, that’s okay. Ask questions, read up on who we are and remain our friend. On the other hand, if you don’t understand and refuse to learn and open your heart then, regrettably, I can no longer remain friends. I am too old to deal with negativity! I faced enough of it earlier in my life. As for my wonderful friends, family of choice, biological family and fellow activists who accept me and my community I thank you from the bottom of my heart ❤️!

Hugs,

Jerry/Jeri

After this post began to receive likes and kind comments I was moved to respond. Here is that response with the names removed

I am feeling so blessed and overwhelmed with gratitude at the response to this post. Three of my friends, from way back, during my years in Norridgewock, Maine from 13 – 16 years old. Your simple “likes” were so moving for me. It shows you may not understand all I’ve shared but your willing to try. You’ll never know how much that means to me and the literal tears of gratitude I’ve shared. Thank you so much! I was also moved by the “like” from my high school classmate at Pine Tree Academy. A time filled with both wonder and joy as well as internal turmoil I didn’t show anyone.

And… my friends from my college era who left comments or “liked” this post. I’m so overwhelmed by their memories, their acceptance and/or their willingness to understand, even if it’s with some trepidation. This means so much.

Then there are all friends who knew me during my gay/AIDS activist 🏳️‍🌈 era your acceptance means the world to me. Finally my new trans family 🦄 who’ve welcomed me with open arms, gave me encouragement and advice and support and love ❤️ your literal and virtual embrace have sustained me during the last two and a half years. Thanks so much. Finally my two unwitting fairy godmothers, your inspiration means more to me than either of you will ever know. I owe you so much and I will try and pass it on by being an inspiration and activist in our community. Before I end I should acknowledge my friend and dare I say apprentice, we embarked on our new journey together and I wish you all the best life has to offer. I may have missed someone, if I have I’m sorry but know your friendship is gratefully accepted. To all thanks🙏🏼, hugs🤗, love❤️and unicorns🦄!!

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