When the Duke walks, you don't notice it

In the spirit of transgender day of visibility

This is my late submission for transgender day of visibility. It comes almost a week late, but I suppose I’ll use this proverb that is popular among the trans community to justify myself:

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

Or: The best time to post about transgender day of visibility was 31st of March. The second best time is 5th of April.

I should preface this post by emphasising that all of its contents are exclusively my own experiences, and may not speak for anybody other than myself. It is written in the spirit of visibility, so that the public knows that transgender people exist, and that ultimately we are normal people.

A second justification for my lateness has been my hesitance to broadcast this to the internet. I like privacy, and I take a lot of steps to safeguard it (e.g, by using Free Software). But there is one step that I have made only halfway, and that is anonymity. I use a VPN to hide my IP address, and I take special care not to give internet giants all of my personal data—I am a nobody when I surf the web.

But when I interact with human beings on the internet, I try to be me. This is terrible privacy advice, because the internet never forgets when you make a mistake. But I find it important, because the internet is a very real place. More and more, the internet affects our collective lives. It allows us to do tangible things such as purchasing items, and it does intangible things such as morphing our perception and opinion of the world. Anonymity allows you to enter this space—this real space—as an ethereal ghost, existing perpetually out of sight, but able to interact just the same. It does not take a creative mind to imagine how this can be abused, and people do.

I could abuse such ghostly powers for good, but I am not comfortable with holding that power. So I wish to be myself in spite of knowing better. To exist online under this name, I must self-censor. I must not say things that I imagine will come back to harm my future self, and I must hide aspects about myself that I do not want everybody to know—say it once, and the whole world knows.

And for years, I haven’t said it: I am transgender. By itself this is unimportant (so what?), but the act of saying it is not. The act of saying it means that anybody, absolutely anybody until the end of the digital age, can discover this about me and hold it against me, and there is no shortage of people who would. And that is frankly quite scary.

But the act of saying it is also activism. By saying it, you assert your existence in the face of an ideology that wishes you didn’t. By saying it, you own the narrative of what it means to be trans, rather than ideologues who would paint you in a dehumanised light. By saying it, you make tangible and visible a human experience that many people do not understand. At the risk of sounding self-aggrandising, there is power in that.

The last point I find especially empowering. Until the exact moment I decided to transition, I simply did not know of the mere existence of trans people. I knew about drag queens flamboyantly dancing on boats in the canals of Amsterdam, but those people were otherworldly to me. They weren’t tangibly real, and they weren’t me. Had I known that transgender people were everyday women and men who care about the same things that I do, I would have spared myself a lot of mental anguish and made the leap a lot sooner.

Instead, something else prompted that realisation. I was reading a Christmas novel in Summer, as you do. The book was called “Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances” authored by John Green, Lauren Myracle and Maureen Johnson. The book has three POVs in a town struck by a heavy snow storm, and there’s a lot of interplay between the POVs.

I was reading one of John Green’s chapters. His main character had long been great friends with a tomboyish girl (nicknamed “the Duke”) who struggled with her gender expression, and the two embark on a great journey through the snow storm to reach the waffle house. During this trek, there is a scene where he is walking a few paces behind her, and he is looking at her. And while looking, and through the shared experiences, a sudden thought strikes him: “Anyway, the Duke was walking, and there was a certain something to it, and I was kind of disgusted with myself for thinking about that certain something. […] When Brittany the cheerleader walks, you notice it. When the Duke walks, you don’t. Usually.”

These two had been friends for the longest time, and for the first time, he entertained the thought that it might be something more than that. And you read on, and on, and this wayward thought starts to become quite real and serious. And suddenly he becomes self-aware of the thought absorbing him:

“Once you think a thought, it is extremely difficult to unthink it. And I had thought the thought.”

It hit me like a brick. In that very same instance, I, too, thought the thought. What had been a feeling for so long, I finally thought out loud in my head, and it was impossible for me to unthink it. It had nothing to do with the novel, and I have no idea how I made that leap, but in that moment I realised for the first time, truly realised, that I did not want to be a boy—that I wanted to be a girl. And I was miserable for it, but eventually better off. A quick search later and I discovered that trans people exist, and that transition is an actual thing that normal people do.

So I did it. And it has been good. Whatever ailed me prior to transition is mostly gone, and I have become a functioning adult who does many non-transgender-related things such as translating GNOME into Esperanto and creating cat monsters for Dungeons & Dragons. But I never really included being transgender in any of my online activities, and I want to change that. I want to be more like the Duke. I want to walk like her, and while people may not always see that walk, I want to call attention to it every now and then. And maybe it will help someone be struck by the thought, whatever spark of madness it is that they need.

Happy transgender day of visibility.