Surviving Transphobia is a collection of stories from trans “celebrities and experts,” who share personal journeys of self-discovery and perseverance through hardship. While some of the writers focused on large-scale forms of systemic transphobia, I was surprised and touched by the more personal stories of confronting transphobia within one’s own family, workplace, or even harmful internalized beliefs.
Although we’re all impacted by transphobia on a systemic level, it’s these more intimate forms of hate that can be most disruptive to our wellbeing—when someone we know and love, like a family member or a partner, can’t accept us or uses our identities against us. During the winter months, many of us may be spending more time with families and partners who create less than affirming environments.
In Surviving Transphobia, the writers also share what has helped them find their way forward. For many, this looked like: connecting with trans community (even just one other person), finding an outlet for self-expression, telling stories of liberation, and supporting and uplifting young trans people.
There were some common threads between the stories that really stood out to me. The first, reflecting the title of Colt St. Amand’s chapter “Both/And,” is the dual role that many of us occupy as trans people doing advocacy work. In workshops and educational settings, as St. Amand puts it, we often have to take on the role of “confident expert,” while also being a “traumatized community member.”
Laura A. Jacobs reflected on the difficulties of existing in this dual role as a therapist working with trans clients who were also traumatized by current political events and transphobia. It strikes me that sometimes we get to choose to step into the role of “expert” or “educator” through our work and advocacy, and other times are pushed into that role, like recently, when my physical therapist thanked me for “opening her eyes” by simply existing in a trans body and trying to get support for my pain. I was glad to have shifted her understanding, and I didn’t want to have to be an educator in that moment.
Chris Mosier also shared the challenges of working in advocacy as a trans person: “Because this is my daily job, it can be challenging to separate the horrible news from my personal life.” This is the reality for many of us who have to stay tuned in to anti-trans news for work when we might rather tune it out for our own wellbeing.
How can we also take care of ourselves and hold onto trans joy? This isn’t easy to do, but it reminds me of the importance of rest and setting boundaries around when we consume media that harms us. It also reminds me of the need to recognize our own limits for reading and talking about this stuff, and how we can have compassion for the fact that this might change on a day-by-day basis.
Several of the authors wrote about the power of telling our own stories. Dee Dee Watters shared how trans rights advocate Monica Roberts told her: “when we don’t use our voices, we allow the bigots to say we don’t exist!”… “Monica reminded me that if I spoke up for myself, I was doing it for all of us.”
Chris Mosier wrote that sharing his experience in his own words “gave me the sense of control that I longed for.”
At the same time, he also shared what it was like to receive a flood of negative comments when his writing went public. This is often the double edged sword we face when sharing our stories publicly: feeling like we get to control the narrative, while also fearing the potential that our words will be taken out of context or used to do harm.
Lexie Bean confronted the same issue when their book, The Ship we Built, was banned in Texas in efforts to restrict media with LGBTQ+ characters. Despite their work being considered “dangerous,” they shared how the book’s protagonist, Rowan, is “someone I created to help me feel less lonely as I navigated my own survival.”
Stories like Rowan’s offer safer containers to process our own experiences, to imagine the supports we wish we could have had, and to have our pain and joy be witnessed by others.
Many of the authors in this book shared their experiences of being disruptors, often at a young age. They experienced not fitting into their family unit, community, or culture. Some took pride in standing outside of limiting binary systems, while others struggled to “stay under the radar.”
Dru Levasseur, Asa Radix, and Dana Delgrado share challenges and triumphs that come with being trans as a lawyer, a med student or health care provider, or a military service member, often facing the need to keep your head down to find safety and belonging, while also needing to disrupt in order to be fully seen and have your needs met. Challenging social norms, intentionally or not, can be isolating and painful. It can also be rewarding. As Dru writes, “Disruption might be your most important legacy.”
While reading about other people’s experiences with transphobia can be difficult and painful, I found Surviving Transphobia to be an uplifting read. It reminded me of how others have persevered through struggle and trauma, and of the multitude of tools that we have to take care of ourselves and others. If you decide to read the book, listen for what experiences resonate, and what tools jump out at you as things you’ve done or things you might be able to try in your own life.