I may have transitioned to male five years ago, but I’m still learning about the many complicated ways that has changed my life.
One of those changes is, of course, friendship.
I knew friendships would change after coming out, but for the most part I was pleasantly surprised by how many were accepting — in fact, as my true self finally blossomed, I briefly became even more popular.
Nothing was a greater blessing to my social life than coming out.
Still, this came with a price, I quickly learned. Suddenly I was “the trans person” — someone that dozens of people could turn to for an intimate conversation about what it’s like to transition.
Over time, I began to realize that, even with close friends, my response had the burden of either hurting or harming my entire community.
If a friend was to ask an incredibly insulting question, and my reply was to yell at them, they would probably never ask me nor anyone else ever again. Sure, I would be free from the pain of their question, but if they were to meet another trans person, they would be equally as ignorant — perhaps even more bitterly so.
I’m aware that it doesn’t have to be my burden. Still, I choose to be open, so long as there is a genuine desire to learn. I always take the opportunity to say that every trans person’s experience is different, and that whatever I say may be the opposite for someone else (something that is equally true even for this column).
Yet the more masculine I become, the more my friend groups have begun to shift. When I spend time with others late at night, I’m far more likely to find myself among groups of men — usually cisgender.
I’ve begun to feel that, among groups of men outside the LGBT community, there is a subtle abhorrence to discussing subjects that would draw deep feelings from one another. If such conversations arise, they are more often short and factual.
In fact, the expectation for men to speak up for themselves — but shut up and take a beating when necessary — has often left me feeling like I’m walking a tightrope when navigating certain conversations. Not just as a trans person, but as a man.
Recently, however, the acceptance I fought for as a man interjected with my openness about being transgender, and I found myself in a strange dilemma.
During a recent conversation with some friends, a light joke took a turn when it painfully and inaccurately alluded to my transition. This was a moment when I would have normally spoken up.
Yet this time, I hesitated, and instead I did what any man is supposed to — I shut it inside.
I had never stayed silent like this during such an opportunity. I felt that, as a man, it was my job to take the hit and move on. I was afraid to break the unspoken vow of emotional silence.
At the same time, though, I was breaking my vow to be open about my transition.
I finally decided I had no choice. Long after the conversation had passed, I brought it up just long enough to explain myself.
Maybe it was the way testosterone has quelled my own emotions, or maybe it was the way my personality has shifted, but I kept it short. It was simply an explanation of what I was feeling and why. There was a very brief but powerful reaffirmation from my friends that they love who I am and never meant to hurt me.
They supported me without question, and we moved on.
Although there may not have been tears or laughter, I was still able to teach others just a little bit about what it’s like to be trans. And in doing so, I learned a few things myself.
Even as a man, it’s OK to stand up for yourself. In fact, it’s absolutely expected. And to show enough emotion to stand up for what you care about, even if it’s about your transition from female to male, can be seen as respectably masculine.
As my circle continues to change, and as I continue to grow and mature as a man, I feel that there will be far f intimate conversations or personal reflections upon my experience that I once eagerly shared. I’m beginning to fall neatly into the other end of the binary, something that both overjoys and terrifies me for too many reasons to list.
But as for my friends, I’ve learned that I must continue to stand up for myself. Not because it’s easy, but because no matter their gender, my friends deserve that chance to grow. Besides, maybe — just maybe — one day they’ll meet someone else like me.
And maybe they’ll even become friends.