Double Nickel

I recently had a momentous birthday, reaching 20 years past the age I expected myself to be dead.

You see, more years ago than I care to admit, I came to a personal realization that I didn’t expect to live past around age 30 or 35. It didn’t necessarily have anything to do with my trans nature specifically, but I just didn’t see myself as someone who was on a trajectory for longevity. 

In some ways, it baffles me that I’ve made it to this age. In some ways, it was easier to assume that I was a brief candle than expecting to exist on this earth quite so long. Yet, here I am, all these years later.

As I said, that age I expected to pass by was not necessarily because I was trans. At the time, the life expectancy of a trans woman was not exactly known. Indeed, there really was a remarkable dearth of information to be found. 

I had an inkling that I didn’t quite fit within the gender norms expected for me by age three, when I expected shoes like the other girls in my neighborhood. By age eight, I had the good fortune of first hearing about transgender people, and had a sense that I might be one. I also felt that I could not share that information with my parents or anyone else. 

At age twelve, I first experienced suicidal ideation and planned to try and take my life courtesy of the nearby freeway. 

While I became familiar with all sorts of words that fit near Transalpine Gaul and Transvaal in the local library’s card catalog, it would still be more than a decade later that I would start to actively seek out and read books about transsexuality and such. At that time, most of them were pretty dry texts, though you could find the occasional trans autobiography about Caroline Cossey, Renée Richards, and Christine Jorgensen if you looked hard enough.  

I didn’t start the coming out process until I was 25, and transition started in earnest just a couple years shy of 30. It took that long just to reach a point where I could start to actually live it. 

There’s this belief in non-trans circles that we transition very quickly, and that we seemingly go from “showing no signs” to starting transition in a very short period of time. It makes those who do not experience being trans feel that our transition is merely some sort of phase or trend, with some assuming that we must have been recruited into transition by some sinister sorts. 

This is especially common to hear from some of the more vocal anti-trans bigots, who want to attribute the rise in transgender identities among younger people to some sort of social contagion at best. 

Yet this all ignores that many of us spend years, even decades of our lives, trying to understand ourselves. For many of us — including yours truly — we may fight every day against such feelings, trying to present and act as we think we’re expected to. We may feel perfectly trapped, stuck within a gender that fits as well as a five-dollar, knock-off concert t-shirt. 

Then once we find the information we need, and sympathetic ears that may not be present among family and friends, we finally get the courage to reveal our true selves to the world.

It may be rapid for them, but for us it’s taken ages longer than it should. 

I mentioned earlier, too, about trawling through card catalogs. I was trying to find information in a time before computers became commonplace in the home, when I could only find trans stories at the local library if I was lucky, though my scant knowledge typically was located in the pages of my father’s “girlie” magazines or mom’s tabloids. Neither of these made me feel any better about myself.

I can also count the times I heard anything else on televisions, as either sitcom fodder or news show scandals. 

Today, we have a big beautiful Internet full of information. We do see trans faces on our televisions and in movies. We surely exist outside of the back pages and are more than the butts of jokes. It is truly a world apart from my own youth, and I wonder if the resources of today would have allowed me to come out that much sooner then.

That comes with a caveat, however. This side of the so-called “transgender tipping point” — the infamous tagline from a TIME magazine cover that was already 8 years ago — we’re seeing trans rights fought back hard against. 

Across the country, we are seeing sports bans, laws against trans care, laws against even talking about transgender people. More and worse bills are still being introduced across the country.

Meanwhile, we’re seeing the far-right actively pushing false narratives about trans lives, smearing us as “groomers” and predators, with no regard for the truth. These smears, too, are giving rise to violence, as we once against see a sharp rise in anti-trans murders continuing past the Trump administration.

I don’t feel under any threat of Godwin’s Law when I see the echoes of where the transgender community was in Weimar Germany before the rise of the National Socialist party. 

Still, I hope for a time when many others will be able to see a great many birthdays ahead, and see the level of progress that I have witnessed over my lifetime to date. 

Here’s to many more, for us all.

Gwen Smith hopes you’ll make a trans person’s life better today. You’ll find her at www.gwensmith.com/.