How to make internalized shame mechanisms work for you at home or in the workplace

When I was in the early stages of the coming out process, I visited my mother in the hospital (this sounds like a grim fact, but rest assured my mother has a chronic illness and thus is always in the hospital). We were talking about my transness, and what changes would come my way. At one point, she looked at me and said, “you’re not going to grow breasts though, are you?” She looked disgusted at the thought of it. Imagine that, her “son” (authors note: not actually a son) growing breasts. She then told me “well, don’t expect too much, I mean, look at me” [points at breasts]. So really, one breast forward, two breasts back. The idea of me growing breasts was disgusting, and also if I did get them, they wouldn’t be anything to write home about.

The early stages of transition were fraught with this sort of concern. Both from external and internal forces. HRT, or Hormone Replacement Therapy for those not in the scene, does a lot to the body. Primarily, it works to diminish the effects of masculine (or feminine) hormones on the body and introduce feminine (or masculine) hormonal traits in its place. Here’s a list of things that will change for me:

· Fat is redistributed in the body. Your pre-existing fat does not magically move to new places, but eventually it begins to store in new places on the body. See: breasts and hips

· Hair growth on your head is strengthened

· Body hair, however, is slowed

· Your face will change ever so slightly. This is because fat is redistributing there too. And also, you’re smiling more now.

· Strangers will eventually notice these things and stare at you in public, make comments about them, yell at you, follow you, and slide into your DMs online. Sometimes the same people that yell at you in public will then slide into said direct messages.

· Etc

These are some, but absolutely not all, of the things that change about your physical space in this world. This doesn’t even scratch the surface in terms of mental, emotional, and sensory changes. Did you know your tastes and cravings will change? HRT is amazing, truly. A gift.

And that’s just it, this thing that I have opted to undertake is a gift to myself. It’s a long-term self care treatment, a lifelong version of a face mask, a plush robe and hours of high end cooking documentaries on Netflix. I treasure the changes, even when I can’t believe they’re true. My hips are wider, my waist slimmer. I have those small breasts that my mother warned me about, and they’re growing. My girlfriend once took a photo of me while I was fast asleep and I recall seeing my sleeping body and thinking “holy shit, that’s a lady sleeper”. My body is changing, and I’m finally starting to see it. My breasts are sensitive to essentially everything in the world at this point, and I have to wear a bra at all times, lest a gentle wind or the feeling of my denim jacket moving against my shirt lay me low and red faced. For everyone that went through feminine puberty, you know where I’m at right now.

But the thing about this is that if I’ve noticed, that means it’s noticeable. Let’s talk about privilege for a hot second. This is a tricky swamp to wade through, but let it be known there is a privilege in passing and stealth. I was afforded the luxury, should I choose to accept it, to still pass as a dude in public, until fairly recently. I could put on my disguise, crossdress if you will, as a dude and go out into the world and have no problems with the world that faces me. Strangers rarely look twice at someone they perceive to be just like themselves. You know; white, cis, etc. Those sorts of folks rarely get looked at twice. And so it went for a long period of time that I was given this gift of hiding in plain sight. This is not to say that it changed how I felt. Once I was open and honest about who I am inside this idea of pretending to be a dude in public became difficult, if not slightly traumatic. Honestly, a bit of a nightmare. All I want to do is be myself. But if being myself was difficult or even a danger, I could put on my disguise and live another day.

But I have started to notice that this disguise is no longer working. I mean, let’s face facts here. I have a blunt cut bob with bangs that is dyed light/blonde, currently wearing medium waist slimming black jeans (Levis 312 ftw baybee) and I have a bra on at all times. I don’t always wear makeup when I go out. In most cities 75% of this costume would allow me to pass as dude if that’s what would keep me safe, but the hair, my body, my face, my breasts. These things are starting to become beacons. A neon sign that says, “lady over here, or at least not a dude”. And I love it to a certain degree. The point of my transition is to be who I truly am, have always been, and would like to live and die as: a woman. To be clocked in public as not a dude, fingers crossed a lady, or the height of luxury, i get called a They and asked my preference. Despite all this, I’m not getting called Miss on a daily basis, I haven’t transcended (see what I did there?) to a new plane where I’m seen as myself. But I feel my identity and my body being seen and judged as something outside the realm of what people are used to. And this takes some getting used to, as I’m no longer afford the space and comfort of being like, let’s say 90% of the general population.

This brings about a new level of staring. IRL comments sections. I went to a grocery store in a neighbourhood I’m not used to the other day and every turn I made, every aisle, I saw someone stare at me as I walked by. Heads turned. In other spaces I’ve noticed people taking pictures of me. This is new, and not exactly thrilling. It makes going out an anxious experience. Sadly, I used to be the sort that would scoff at places that would label themselves as a safe space. As inclusive and inviting. This is because I never had to consider the realities of what would happen if they weren’t. When people ask about the whereabouts of their respective privilege perks, this is exactly it. On the street of a prominent neighbourhood in Vancouver a few days ago, the words “Resist Lesbian Erasure” were spray painted on the sidewalk. Which is a TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) talking point. Now, luckily the word TERFS was spray painted over Erasure to change the message, but all the same, I knew what this meant. Not all are welcomed here, not even in spaces that are LGBTQ2S+ oriented. Some lesbians see trans women as being against them, erasing their existence, their sexuality, their hard fought and won rights and freedoms. This is, of course, nonsense, but when has anyone let baseless nonsense get in the way of their given right to exclude people they hate?

This all leads back to this idea of being uncomfortable and feeling like perhaps there are places that don’t want me there. And now I’m wary in general. Case in point: The day of writing this I was supposed to get a tattoo. Ive been craving a new one for some time and thought today would be a good day to do it. An artist I had found online had an opening, I liked her work and she’s a queer woman. I thought it would be perfect. But then I started to freak out inside. She’s queer, but what if she’s a TERF? What if she, or the shop, has something against trans folks? What if they judge me, or worse? This person is going to put a needle to my skin. I looked online, the website for the shop had no discernible hatred towards trans folks, but also no public acknowledgement of their inclusion policy. Neither did the artist on her private page. None of the artists in the shop list their pronouns. No queer people I follow follow them. I started to get anxious. I bailed on the appointment. I didn’t eat anything until after I had come down from my nerves about all of this. I was just trying to leave the house. I have at last count 23 tattoos on my body. I have done this before. I will now no longer get any work done by a shop or an artist that isn’t public about being inclusive and safe. Because now my brain will assume that they are not.

I exist now in this world as a public trans woman. This is no secret to anyone that knows me, follows me online, or anything of that nature. I do not hide this fact, but it is now noticeable even when I’d rather it wasn’t. It feels bad, to be ashamed of yourself like this. And that’s what it is, shame. When my mother asked me about growing breasts in that way, it told me that what was going to change about my body was not okay. I have a hard-internal shame mechanism, that stems from the fact that I have been judged about my own body my whole life and have watched the world around me be judged in kind. I have been told that fat people are sad and gross, that queers are weird, that anyone outside the absolute basic bitch norm is worthy of derision. So, a lot of this is on me. Not to fix the way that society looks at and judges me, but in how I handle it. The way I feel about myself despite all his and how much of it I let affect me. I want to be a strong person, proud of who i am, my identity, my strengths. My beauty. I want to say right here and now that Trans people are maybe the most beautiful people on earth. Not because I am one, but because here you will find a true menagerie of looks, moods, styles, and beauties. I am in awe, and jealous, of every trans person I follow online. I judge myself harshly while I admire them for their strength and beauty. I have so much internal fighting to do, that has been placed there casually my entire life, as the person I cherish the most in my life has told me about people that got “chunky”, has always described how people look first before who they are, the same person who looked at me with disgust aimed at me in their eyes and asked about the future of my chest.

Let it be known that I have breasts, and they’re small and humble, and part of my body and on my list of favourite things that I get to wake up with every day. I delight in seeing if they've grown from the day before. I marvel at my ever changing body in the mirror on the good days and see it for what it's growing into. Some day I will not be ashamed of this body, and every day will wake up and celebrate it for its beauty and not attack it for it’s disgusting flaws. Some day, with much work behind me, I will learn what it means to love myself.