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Attention! Attention!

Some of their extended family members, such as aunts, uncles, and grandparents, often accused them of faking it for attention, like Connor’s dad did. I thought it would be exhausting to put on such an act all the time

Dusti Bowling – Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Unfortunately, it’s not the rarest thing in the world for someone to accuse a trans person of coming out for attention, or because their peers are also trans/gay/ace/anywhere else on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. The call people ‘Trans trenders’.

Other times, people can just flat out not believe that it’s true for no other reason than “it’s not a real thing”. I’m lucky, no one in my immediate sphere holds any of these views. But other trans people aren’t. They get rejected for showing the world one of their most guarded secrets.

But Dusti Bowling (Sidenote: Yes that is her real name, according to her twitter bio! How fun is that!) explains perfectly in her really great book Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus that people don’t choose to be trans, or gay, or ace, or in Connor’s case, have Tourettes, just for attention.

Aven, the main character, is a 13 year old girl who has just moved to a new town with zero friends, parents who have taken on a failing business, and to make everything worse, zero arms too! Quickly though, she finds a friend, Connor, who has Tourettes syndrome, and they bond over their shared outcast status.

Sadly, Connor’s dad holds the view that Connor can’t control his tics because he wants attention. But like Aven says, it’s exhausting being an outcast. A minority. Trans people fight the same fight.

There’s exactly zero worlds where someone would willingly put up with discrimination, weird looks, bathroom bills, almost zero representation in the media, debt from necessary medical bills, and possible surgeries, just for attention.

Instead, trans people who decide to come out and transition have weighed the pain they suffer from gender dysphoria (the distress from your body not matching your gender) to the pain the outward world could give. They have decided that it’s actually less bad to deal with everything the world could throw at them, and those things could include being murdered just because. No seriously, trans panic is a valid legal defense in many states in the USA.

However, it’s not all bad. It’s really cool seeing your life get better one day at a time when you’re on the right medication. It’s really awesome feeling like you match. Seeing the outpouring of love and support one can receive from friends and family can make a bad day good.

Just remember, we don’t do this for attention. We don’t want to stand out in the crowd. We just want to live our best life. Something Aven is hoping to achieve too.
– Kayleigh

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus:

Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona, Aven moves with them across the country knowing that she’ll have to answer the question over and over again.

Her new life takes an unexpected turn when she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined. It’s hard to solve a mystery, help a friend, and face your worst fears. But Aven’s about to discover she can do it all . . . even without arms.

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Take a Leap of Faith

What am I doing? Can I really do this? Should I?

Rachel Caine & Ann Aguirre – Honor Among Thieves

I have been reading a lot of magical fantasy books lately, as noted by every book I’ve written about thus far. So this week, I’m writing about a different kind of book. One with no magic in it at all. However! What it does have, is space whales!!! Literal space whales! Yes, it’s every bit as awesome as it sounds!

I read Honor Among Thieves by Rachel Caine & Ann Aguirre, a book about young Zara Cole, who grew up a child who hated rules, and ended up staying in the slums of New Detroit, rather than go with her family to Mars. To a “better” life. She’s gritty, she’s fierce, she has amazing street smarts, and she’s a criminal. Until one day fate decides to snatch her up and take her on a journey through the stars on a living alien ship, named Nadim (he’s the space whale).

This book is fantastic! It’s fun from the get go, and there’s enough mystery to keep it interesting throughout. The unique worlds that have been crafted, are so much fun to learn about. The journey to find out why a criminal from the slums was chosen for a coveted seat to the stars is such a fun ride I couldn’t put it down.

At one point, Zara questions what she is doing, and if the right thing to do, is go on this journey. There’s very real dangers on Earth should she stay, but she doesn’t feel equipped to go to the stars either. Things are confusing for her, and nothing really seems to make sense and she can’t get any real answers from anyone. “You were chosen for a reason” is a common phrase in her life. This parallels what a lot of trans people go through. The common trope that someone who is trans should know from the time their a kid is all too commonly not accurate.

Looking back at my own life, there were absolutely signs when I was young, but I had no idea what they meant, or how to express them, in a world where you’re taught “you’re a boy, this is what boys do”. So many trans people go through long, extended periods of denial, repression, and questioning, before they can admit to themselves they are trans, let alone others. Which is why the quote I chose this week is so accurate. I wondered the same things for months as my transition started. It never stops either. I was questioning if I was doing the right thing when I came out to myself, when I went to the doctor to get a prescription for hormones, even when I had been on hormones for 3 months and I realized my breasts were big enough to be real! It’s always scary, and you always wonder if you can continue.

But that doesn’t stop me, because like Zara, who kept getting the answer “You were chosen for a reason”, I have to remember that I’m transitioning for a reason. I was unhappy with my life, even with all the good, there was a lingering feeling of emptiness, constant depression and sleepless nights. I hated “being a man”, and I was so upset that I lost the coin toss of what gender I was. Just like Zara took a leap to avoid the dangers on Earth, I took a leap to try and fix my own problems, and life has rewarded me greatly with my courage. I get to finally live a happy life, one that I enjoy, one where I’m ok being myself, and almost all of my mental health issues have practically vanished.

When you’re presented with an opportunity to take a leap of faith to make life better, even if you don’t feel equipped to handle it, you should take it anyways. You never know how strong you are until you overcome your burdens and prove to yourself what you can do.

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Always remember who you are

The more masks you wear, the harder it is to remember who you really are beneath them all.

Katherine Locke – The Spy with the Red Balloon

I love this quote so much. It comes from the book The Spy with the Red Balloon by Kathrine Locke. It is the incredible sequel to The Girl with the Red Balloon, that I wrote about a few weeks ago. It is about two siblings who get recruited to the manhattan project, due to their magical blood. There’s magic, and espionage, and queer relationships!!! What’s not to love about all of that! It takes everything that was great about the first book, and makes it better. I absolutely loved it from start to finish. Absolutely go check it out and give it a read. It stands on its own because it’s not a direct sequel, but is definitely boosted by having already read the first book.

I really love the quote I pulled for this week. I think it’s something everyone can relate to on some level. Everyone ends up putting on a mask at some point. Some people put on a mask to hide their fear. If they show to the world they aren’t afraid, people will look up to them. Others put on a mask to hide from the world. As a trans woman, I put on a mask of masculinity for years and years, just to survive. I was afraid growing up to accept who I really am. I thought “men do this”, “men look like this”, “men talk like this”. So I put on the masks, and pretended to be a man.

Growing up in the 90s, and being in high school and college in the 2000s, being trans wasn’t something you heard about, at least in the midwest. Because of this, my mask of masculinity helped me make it through childhood, my teens, and young adulthood. I was able to pretend to be someone else, and people liked me because I was “normal”. But it was so limiting too. I lost sight of who I was. I played video games to escape reality. I was extremely introverted so I wouldn’t have to show the world I didn’t know who I was. I felt like I had nothing to offer the world.

The problem was the masks. I had lost myself behind them, and the only way out was to rip them off and let the world see who I was. So I came out as trans and began my journey to where I am today. In that time, I’ve learned that I have things to offer the world. I’m more than just that kid that played video games and didn’t socialize much. I’m a strong woman, I love to crochet, and I’m writing about my experiences to show other trans people that there is hope, it’s not all darkness. These are all things I wouldn’t have known, had I hid behind the masks for the rest of my life.

Not all masks are bad all the time. Someone who is introverted has to put on a mask of confidence when in a social setting, but that helps them connect with others! It helps them come out of their shell! Other times, a mask of fear is ok. If you need to spend a night hidden under the covers crying because school or work feels overwhelming, that’s ok! But remember to take the mask off at some point, so you don’t get buried in the negativity that it can bring. Don’t ever forget who you are, because you are amazing, and the world deserves to know that!

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Like seeing color for the first time

In fact I feel, well, alive. Like I’ve been living my whole life blind and now I’ve opened my eyes.

Victoria Aveyard – Red Queen

It’s a common thing to hear from people who get their first pair of glasses, that they finally understand what it feels like to see with good vision. Their eyes have been opened to the world that exists around them in a clarity they never thought possible. My brother in law said “oh my gosh you can read the words!” when referencing a video game he had been playing. It makes you wonder how people can go so long and have no idea they needed something so vital and important.

This week I read the AMAZING book Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard. It is such a wonderfully crafted story about a young girl named Mare Barrow, who finds herself among a world of silver blooded elite, as she pretends to be a silver herself, while also trying to keep everyone around her from discovering that she has “lower” red blood. This story really gripped me from the moment I started reading it and never let go. I stayed up two nights in a row until about 1 am reading, just so I could finish it. If you have the opportunity to read this book, I highly recommend it!

The quote at the top comes from Red Queen, and I bring it up, because that’s the way I described my first time out in the world in women’s clothes. I was 29, it was July, and I had just come out to my parents. I was on my way to a therapist appointment to discuss my gender issues, and she encouraged me to go out and get an outfit and wear it in. She said it would help me start to feel at home in my body. Up until that point, I had spent almost 20 years dressing up in secret. 20 years hiding from the world, borrowing clothes from the women in my life without them knowing. I have since apologized to those women, but at the time, I needed an outlet for my repressed inner woman and didn’t have a better way.

The night prior to walking into the world, I went to target to go shopping. A nice saleswoman helped me pick out a dress that was way too big for me, under the guise that I was shopping for my wife. I was too scared to tell her the dress was for me. But even with the setback, I still had made progress. I had a new dress to wear. The next day, I went, to my appointment in a dress, the first time ever having stepped outside my bedroom in women’s clothes. I had a full beard, and looked mighty hilarious, but it was an important first step. People saw me like that, I interacted with 3 or 4 people at the therapists office. This was no longer something that was just myself. This was my future, who I was destined to become. When I got home, I was asked how things went, and my only response was, “It’s like seeing color for the very first time.” It was a relatively mundane drive across town, and yet, it was so important to my self esteem and who I was, that I cherish that memory.

So back to my very first question, how can someone go so long, without knowing something is wrong. I don’t have an answer, I’m not sure anyone does. But when you are transgender, something a large chunk of the world doesn’t “agree” with, it becomes hard to accept that about yourself. Who can you safely talk to when you start to feel different? Will your parents understand their 12 year old “boy”, when they goes to bed wishing they could be a woman? Will your friends shun you at the pivotal time where how you’re perceived at school is everything? Or is it easier to ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist, and repress for 20 years, even if it hurts to do so? It’s so easy to fall into a routine of unhappiness that it becomes normalized. It’s your daily life, you hardly notice it. It’s background noise.

But, when you finally gain the courage to come out, to accept yourself, to begin making changes in your life to get better, you become so very aware of everything that was wrong before. Immediately, I could remember things about my life I never remembered happening. Feelings of dysphoria that I didn’t understand at the time. I also saw an exit. A way to get better. To be happy. It was like seeing color for the first time.

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Always make history

And remember, you too are making history each day. Let’s make a history that lifts up all people, erases no one, and leaves behind nothing but hateful ideology.

Katherine Locke – The Girl with the Red Balloon

I found this quote recently. It was the very last line of the acknowledgements section of a wonderful book by author Katherine Lock, The Girl with the Red Balloon. When I read this quote, it struck me. Everyone can make history. Everyone can make a difference, and everyone can help make the world a better place. It’s something I’ve been trying to put into words for over a year now, as my transitional journey has progressed.

The journey Ellie, one of the main characters in The Girl with the Red Balloon, faces, is one of hardship, and how to adapt to life in a new, and hostile environment. She is ripped from her family and friends, and taken to 1988 East Berlin through no fault of her own. She must find a way to survive, and in that process, she thrives, finds love, makes friendships, and grows immensely as a person. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it!

The reason I bring Ellie up, is because there are certain parallels between her time spent in 1988, with my life. On July 25th, 2017, I came out as a transgender woman to my friends and family. I had long repressed, and hid, and refused to acknowledge that fact. When I finally had the courage to come out, my life was ripped from me, and I found myself in a new world. One that has half the country hating me just because I exist. One where nothing will ever be easy again. How do you tell someone you want to date that you’re trans? How do you deal with the stares, the mocking, the hate, and discrimination from employers, landlords, and random people on the street? In this new world, where hate is around every corner, I also had to learn to navigate a transition. What medical needs I have, when to change my clothes, how to go through the legalities such as a name change, or fixing the gender marker on all my important documents. It was no easy task, and some things are still, and will forever be unfinished.

But in this world where I was afraid everyone was against me, I found love, acceptance, and support as well. People who were acquaintances became close friends, family became my rock to stand on, and grow from, and I have learned more about myself than ever before. “You’re so brave”, “You are changing lives”, “You are an inspiration” are phrases that became common to hear, even if I didn’t believe them. To me, I was just trying to survive, and live my life. But others saw bigger. They saw that in my effort to navigate my medical needs, I was beginning to change my company for the better. It’s not done yet, but I am actively working with my HR department to get medical benefits for trans care, beyond hormones. They saw me walking into the world, even before I could pass. They saw a strong brave woman who wasn’t afraid to take the hate and the stares, to help normalize transgender existence in society. They saw someone who was willing to risk everything, to make a better life for herself.

I’ve now been on hormones for 16 months, and I am proud to say I get to live my life as a woman, and I wouldn’t change that for anything. To me it felt like a necessity, that I was doing this for myself, that it was my life that was getting better. But I’ve learned that I am making history, working to prove hateful ideologies wrong, and leaving the world a better place than when I started. And just like Ellie, I have struggled, found friendships, and grown as a person. Still waiting on that love thing, but I’m sure it’s just around the corner!