That word — “real” — couldn’t be more misconstrued, in my opinion.
When it is used maliciously, it is meant to “other” me, to differentiate me from someone born with the anatomy I will soon have a surgeon replicate. No, I will never have the internal organs or chromosomes of a 46xx genetic female such as my wife , my sister or my mom, my mother-in-law, aunts and cousins who were born and assigned female upon their birth.
I will never know the joy nor pain nor physical connection many women have with the children they conceive and deliver, nor the sensation and suffering of menstruation nor the feelings of a very first sexual encounter as a young woman experiences it.
But women who have hysterectomies are still real women. A person assigned female at birth who cannot herself give birth is still a real woman no matter if she adopts or uses a surrogate to have children, or chooses to remain childless.
And even with my current weird amalgam of genitals, my feelings, thoughts, instincts, senses, emotions and desires combined with nearly a decade of needing to sit or squat to pee, significant breast development, nine mammograms, two episodes of lactation, boxes of nipple shields and pads, packages of heavy duty panty liners, what seemed like never-ending bloating, rollercoaster hormonal cycles, thinning upper body muscle mass, stronger pelvic and leg muscles, new curves and shifts in weight distribution, hot flashes and chills… About the only thing I’m missing is a sufficient amount of hair on my head and a sufficiently deep orafice between my legs.
One of the weirdest of all the anomalies I have shared with only two people was detailed in a final report by doctors at NIH who spent a week studying me last summer; a detail that seemed nonsensical when I first read it. The whole experience made me shudder, but the doctors’ description that my “public hair is consistent with a female pattern” stopped me in my tracks, and I’m not sure why. What possible significance could it have, and why is mine is as it is? The answer escapes me. It’s not like I’ve been waxed or had electrolysis down there!
Frankly, I’m still quietly surprised whenever callers hear my voice and think it’s my wife answering the phone, or call me “Miss” or “Ma’am” upon meeting me. Yet strangely enough, the only time I get upset are those rare occasions when someone misgenders me by calling me “sir” or “him.” You might as well say you think I’m ugly and that the outfit I’m wearing doesn’t go well together.
Perhaps that is because my overarching need to be loved as I truly am is now stronger than my lifelong obsession to change who I am in order to be liked. Because who I am in the dark, in the spotlight, in my dreams and every day for the past five months is the most real woman I can possibly be.
Writer and activist Janet Mock coined the catchy slogan #girlslikeus to unite transgender women and spread the message of her excellent memoir, Redefining Realness.
Author and professor Jennifer Finney Boylan offered up three words of her own, “Equality of Identity” and I pushed for it to be adopted as another unifying hashtag.
Lately, I feel inspired by the keynote address delivered at the 2014 Pittsburgh Trans Conference, by a longtime friend and true civil rights champion: Brynn Tannehill. Her speech and the title she chose for it resonated strongly within me: a simple sentence, also of three words that sum up my feelings better than anything I myself have ever put together.
I Am Real.
I urge everyone to use these sets of three words in a hashtag on all messages, social media posts and tweets related to transgender civil rights. #iamreal #equalityofidentity #girlslikeus
And I don’t need to prove it to believe it, or feel it. I possess the realness within. I Am Real!