Power, survival, gender, politics and transitioning in a time of upheaval. The Blade‘s editor tells their story and how they got here.
I don’t write much about my personal life in the Blade, but at this point multiple readers have asked me to publish this piece here. Originally delivered as part of Tranzmission‘s Trans Monologues event last month. — D.F.
One night early in 2015 I arrived back in Asheville after driving across state. I left my things in my car and walked straight down to the writing desk at my local haunt.
I’m a journalist, an investigator. I put facts, stories, pieces of evidence together to find out — or try to, anyway — what the hell’s going on. That night, as I pulled out my notepad and started writing, I had no idea what exactly I was trying to pull together. But the facts and stories came out anyway.
There was the feeling of visceral dislike whenever people talked about me as male, the wince when I heard the word “he” flung in my direction.
There was more. All those times I’d dug the shaving razor far too close as I ran it down across my cheek, tears in my eyes and no idea why. There was the time I just blurted out to a college roomate “I don’t know, maybe I’m a woman” and there was, above all, the seething discomfort, down deep that I didn’t have the language for but seemed to follow me every second of every day.
There was so, so much more. It poured out, rendering my usual chicken scratch completely incomprehensible, page after page. Then, an insight so blindingly obvious that I’d spent year after year burying it.
“Holy shit I’m trans!”
In my mind I had shouted it loud enough for tourists, locals, friends and passersby on the street to hear. In reality, they probably just heard a series of rapid, shocked grumbles as I finally got around to admitting the glaringly obvious.
Old chains never break clean and easy. The ensuing year and a day before I downed the first part of my HRT along with my morning tea was a blur. But things went forward step by step, as much with planning, appointments and waiting as with growth and acceptance. I came out (again and again and again) to friends, loved ones and colleagues.
I had privileges, some obvious, some not. I was established in a city that, despite all its hells, I loved. While times are often tight I’m self-employed, in a stable housing situation. I have supportive family and friends.
But still there were the bigots driving by, shouting “faggot” the second they were at a distance where they could easily speed away (these are cowards, after all). There were threats of violence, both implied and explicit.
These weren’t new, I’d dealt with them to some degree my entire life, even though they ramped up through my transition. In my line of work, however, I witnessed an equally insidious but more subtle transphobia in the halls of Asheville’s supposedly liberal city politics. This came from the people who shape our laws and policy. As 2016 opened I saw the city attorney (who’s still in office, by the way) outright mock the very concept of “they/them” pronouns. I heard a “progressive” Council member chuckle and join in her dismissal. I saw the elected officials of a government that had flown a pride flag from City Hall the previous year fail to lift a finger when LGBT groups called for them to join Charlotte and pass the most basic non-discrimination protections. I saw the drumbeat towards HB2 escalate. I saw bigots brandish hatred while local notables clucked about the need to respect their right to call for our annihilation.
Last March, for all those reasons and many more, I came out publicly. The year didn’t ease up nor, hell, did 2017. HB142 passed, and our mayor “applauded” (her words) that bill that further enshrined HB2’s horrors into law. The right-wing wants us devastated, we know that. But some days it seems plenty of liberals (and even some leftists) are competing to see who can condemn and throw us under the bus faster. If I hear another useless state legislator insist that trans people should keep smiling after they stab us in the back, I swear I’m going to scream.
Even people who claimed to be accepting decided, after I came out, that I was on a timeline. Not mine, mind you (they didn’t bother to ask what that was) but the one they’d cobbled together from bad media, half-understood stories and the inability of the privileged to think for a damn second before opening their mouths. A simple “how are you doing?” wouldn’t suffice. It was “why don’t you pluck your eyebrows?” “when are you going to grow your hair out more, uh, traditionally?” “why aren’t you wearing make-up?” “when will you stop wearing suits?” “you should change your name”
“When are you going to get…the surgery.”
Even as my professional conduct and views remained pretty similar I saw some of those I’d worked around for years change their behavior, bit by bit, moving me from the mental box of “assertive guy journalist” to “angry trans lady.”
A few months ago a friend, genuinely concerned about the stress I was under, asked why it seemed like I was in “war mode” all the time. I replied that I didn’t feel like I have a choice.
But there were other things too. There was an image a friend captured of me fully laughing in public, a picture I looked at and, for once, didn’t hate what I saw. There were meals and joy, dancing and comfort, at long last, some sense of relief.
There was the afternoon I racked my brain, trying to parse out why I felt unusual, before I realized it was the simple fact that I was relaxed, finally, without the barrage of dysphoria. The weight had been there for so long, my body and mind so accustomed to its hurt, that its absence shocked me.
The strain of this era of conflict and hate is real, and some days it wears on me…
I’m also goddamn happy, y’all. Not always, but so, so much more than I was, every second that I am, at long last, me.
It feels perfect, fragile and absolutely hazardous all at once.
There’s a Marge Piercy poem that’s been on my mind a lot lately for this reason. It notes that the oppressive and evil can do “anything you can’t stop them from doing. How can you stop them? Alone, you can fight, you can refuse, you can take what revenge you can but they roll over you.
“But two people fighting back to back can cut through a mob, a snake-dancing file can break a cordon.
An army can face an army.”
“Three people are a delegation, a committee, a wedge,” she writes. “With four you can play bridge and start an organization. With six you can rent a whole house, eat pie for dinner with no seconds and hold a fundraising party. A dozen make a demonstration, a hundred fill a hall. A thousand give solidarity and your own newsletter, ten thousand power and your own paper, a hundred thousand, your own media, ten million, your own country.”
It goes one at a time, it starts when you care to act, it starts when you do it again after they said no, it starts when you say ‘We’ and know who you mean, and each day you mean one more.”
Those words stay with me because despite all the turncoats, bigots and bullshit there were the people that didn’t run, didn’t give up, didn’t make excuses and who have actually demonstrated that they’ll fight beside us all the way to the gates of hell.
Not all realities are against us. Alongside that fragile joy, there is the fact of power and survival. Every single goddamn day I wake up is a victory that I never thought I would have.
Because I’m not alone.