refinement

In Honour of the International Transgender Day of Visibility, An Admission:

My name is Evan.  I’m a 23 year-old university student.  I am transgender.

If you’ve known me for years and this comes as a surprise to you, please read on.

When I began transitioning at 16 years old, I began a YouTube channel and Tumblr account documenting my transition.  It was very unpolished and awkward, but at the time, there were few other young trans people documenting their transitions and speaking on trans issues, so I developed a bit of an audience.  At its peak, I had about 1600 subscribers on YouTube and over 500 followers on Tumblr - not by any measure an enormous following, but as both YouTube and Tumblr were in their infancy at the time, it was not insignificant.  It’s difficult not to cringe thinking back to those videos, made by an embarrassingly earnest 16 year old version of myself.  But operating the channel opened a line of communication between me and hundreds of other young trans people.  I developed deep, lasting friendships with guys from all over the world that continue to this day.  I even received a handful of messages over the years from those who told me that my visibility had helped to give them the courage to pursue their own transitions - a sentiment so profound it at once fills me with pride and deeply humbles me.

But after a couple of years of running the blog and YouTube channels, I became weary of being best known for what I consider a medical condition.  What had once helped foster support and a sense of community through my transition became a burden as it made me feel that despite having transitioned, being trans was going to remain the focus of my entire life.  I needed a chance to live my life as a man - without any prefixes or suffixes or qualifiers attached - as I had been working my entire life for.  In short order I deleted my blog and my YouTube account and worked to distance myself from anything trans-related. I quit the job at which my condition was well-known, and moved out of town to attend a university where nobody knew my history.  I was determined to live “stealth” - that is, actively concealing my trans status from new coworkers, classmates, and acquaintances so that no one had any reason to suspect I was anything other than a typical cis guy.

The anonymity that was at first liberating soon became isolating.  I was gripped by such a great fear of the risk of new acquaintances learning my history that I was unceasingly guarded and impersonal.  I treated with suspicion anyone who I saw as a threat to my privacy, whether they were old friends or even family.  An anxiety that I thought I defeated through my transition came roaring back, strengthened tenfold by these feelings of paranoia and alienation.  I had achieved all that I had set out for - nobody outside of close friends and family knew of my trans history - but now nobody knew me at all.  And so despite feeling for the first time at peace with my body, I was miserable and alone.  It forced me to reflect on why the fear that others may learn that I had transitioned was holding me captive.  Of course, one component was a fear of vitriol and hate.  I feared not being respected as the man that I am.  I feared not being respected as a rational human being at all.  But to allow these hypotheticals to control my life was allowing the ignorance of others to hold power over me.  And that I cannot abide.

I do not regret my time living stealth, and in no way do I want to give the impression that people who keep their trans status private are as unhappy as I was, because it’s simply not true.  I can only speak to my own experience.  I may receive criticism that my privilege as a white, middle-class educated man allowed me to retreat from the trans community until public opinion began to shift.  I can not nor will not deny that despite the relative disadvantage of being trans, I have benefited from many other privileges related to gender, race and class.  I know there are trans men and women living in areas where living openly would put their lives in peril.  I personally know two men who were physically attacked when the knowledge that they had transitioned fell into the wrong hands, and the unparalleled risk of violence that trans women of colour worldwide face for simply existing is a blight upon humanity.  But unlike others, I have the incredible fortune of operating from a place of relative security, and so I am compelled to use this position of privilege to share my experience and advocate for justice.  In my mind, the ultimate goal of trans visibility and trans advocacy is to allow all trans and non-binary people the privilege of being able to live in safety and security, no matter how public or private they wish to be about their transition.

That I am able to step forward and be visible is due to the efforts of forbears in the movement who experienced unending scrutiny in both their public and private lives. Those who lost their lives to violence that shocked the public in such a way that it shifted popular perception of the value of trans lives. Those who have engaged in fighting and those who continue to fight against institutions that have codified oppression against trans and non-binary people.  Those who have simply had the courage be visible and live with dignity. 

That I’m able to stand at all is only because I am standing on the shoulders of these giants.