This post will be a bit of a departure for me, but I was asked a simple question upon the reveal of the 13th Doctor, “Does this mean Doctor Who is trans?”
My immediate reaction is, “No.”
It has been made clear throughout the series that while each incarnation holds the memories of previous Doctor’s, they are distinct personalities. Unique individuals. With their own tastes, their own mannerisms, their own drives.
And from my experience – I am not a different person than I was before I came out as a trans woman. I am simply… more me.
If they handle this new incarnation in an appropriate way.
If they have her process being told all of her life that she was male and show her struggle to resolve that with being a woman.
If they reflect and comment meaningfully on how those people who have met the Doctor before will still recognize her and find themselves misgendering her, out of cruelty or ignorance, or habit.
If she’s now the best, smartest, most effective, caring, engaged of all Doctors because she is no longer held back by the artifices of living her life in a boy disguise.
Then, maybe. Maybe the answer could be, “Yes.”
Then again, I’m pretty tired of trans women being played by cis actors.
So perhaps it’s best to steer clear and just say, “No. Doctor Who is not trans.”
My entire life I have dreamt of belonging to a group of women.
Bookclubs, lady’s happy hours, bonding sessions at the nail salon or spa… always out of my reach – spaces where I was either actively excluded or not welcome, to one degree or another.
And I understood. Women need safe spaces to just BE and my presence would not have been safe at that time.
It wasn’t something I dwelt on… mostly. I would just feel a twinge of loss or regret when a group of women planned something that I couldn’t participate in. At times I’d express my regret about that, but mostly I learned to tuck it away and move on.
When I came out as a trans woman, I did not know if this would change. The women I know have known me as other than I am and if that specter doesn’t loom large for them, I know it does for me. And as for new women I met, I was scared that being a trans-woman would not be the right shibboleth to grant me access – whether that was internally or externally imposed.
Two weeks ago I was working from home, chatting on Slack (our team communication tool) with the two women who were the other 2/3’s of my on-boarding cohort (Team #BRANSTACLAC forever!). We were chatting about the stresses and pleasures of the job, encouraging each other, being generally supportive. And suddenly it hit me. I typed, “”Do you know how long I’ve waited to feel like I belonged in a group of women?”
And followed immediately with, “49 years.”
And then I burst into tears.
49 years of not understanding why I didn’t feel like I fit in with groups of boys or men. 49 years of feeling excluded from groups of girls and women. 49 years of standing at parties, bored to death, listening to men talk about sportsball – or even video games, which I play and love but approach very differently than the majority of men that I’ve met. 49 years of defecting to the groups of women at parties, only to feel like my presence there was only serving to further alienate myself from everyone – men and women alike.
The next day I was sitting in the lunch room with a group of women, talking about work events, life, etc, and I began to relate the story of Slack conversation the day before. And I realized that I not only felt a part of the women in my cohort – I felt accepted as a woman by all of the women in my entire department.
I managed to refrain from bursting into tears as I told them this – but only barely.
I know there will still be women-only spaces that are still actively hostile to my presence at worst, or suspicious and guarded at best. But knowing that this amazing group of women I work with accept me as a woman gives me so much joy and confidence. Confidence that I can be and will be accepted into groups of women.
At long last I can put down that weight I’d convinced myself I wasn’t carrying for 49 years.
For the record, I work at Leadpages. We have a few online marketing services aimed at solo-preneurs and small businesses – namely Leadpages, which allows you to easily build effective landing pages and lead boxes, Drip, which is a really impressive marketing automation tool (not that I’m biased), and Center, a marketing command center.
Suffice to say that if I’d had these tools when I ran the Bhaloidam Kickstarter, it would not have been a full time job for a month and a half.
Note: It is important to me that if you recognize yourself in this post, you do not beat yourself up. I am not upset with you, nor do I credit with you causing my emotional responses to the events I’m about to relate. I know you are well-intentioned and I wish you no distress. I do not need to discuss this with you. I am writing about this so that I can process my emotions and move past them.
I went to see Laverne Cox speak two night ago. She was every bit as powerful and lovely as you might expect. Probably more so. During her talk she said something that really struck me and has stuck with me.
I believe that being misgendered is a form of violence.
To clarify, being misgendered is when someone refers to you with the incorrect pronouns. Or pronounces you to be a gender that you are not.
In my case, that would mean referring to me a he/him or saying that I am a man.
She clarified that she meant a social violence, not a physical one, but she also said this in the context of talking about street harassment – which for trans-women all to often turns into deadly physical violence.
Honestly, Ms. Cox said a great many things that struck me and stuck with me, but I have particular reason to dwell on this one. I’ve been misgendered 4 times in the last week. And I’m finding that the cumulative effect of that is difficult to bear.
The first time was an old friend. It was one slip in an otherwise delightful evening. I gently corrected her. She gently corrected herself. We moved on.
For the record, that is exactly how that conversation is supposed to go.
I honestly don’t mind it when people who know me before I came out slip and misgender me. Overwriting mental and verbal patterns is difficult and this was all very sudden for most of them. Just as they got used to the idea of me living in Minnesota again, they had to adjust to using they/them pronouns, and then mere weeks later, adjust to using she/her pronouns. It’s going to take some time and that’s fine.
On Mondays, when I work from home, I frequently don’t shave, put on makeup, wear my wig, etc. This week I had to run to a hardware store over lunch on Monday, so I went out as I was. I finally signed up for the rewards account at this particular hardware store and, without asking, the cashier entered my gender as male in the system. Which… why does a hardware store reward account need to know my gender in the first place?
I told him he’d got it wrong and asked him to change it. He had a bit of a panic and, as it turns out, he couldn’t go back and edit it within 24 hours of creating the record.
I assured him it was fine. That I was not upset. That I had given him no indication that I was a woman. We moved on.
For the record, I have no idea how that conversation is supposed to go.
On Tuesday, before seeing Ms. Cox speak, a co-worker on my team misgendered me when talking to a third person. I corrected them. They stared at me blankly, not comprehending for a brief moment what I was saying. I corrected them again. They blinked and corrected themself. We… moved on.
For the record, that is almost exactly how that conversation is supposed to go. I suppose I could have done without the blank stare.
Wednesday, the day after seeing Ms. Cox speak, another co-worker misgendered me in conversation with several other co-workers. They realized what they’d said just as I did. I gently corrected them. They gently corrected themself. They apologized. And… I got stuck.
It no longer mattered to me that that was exactly how that conversation is supposed to go.
Two people. Two people who had only known me as Branwen. Had only known me as a trans-women. Two people who misgendered me in casual conversation. Two people who did not intend me literal violence.
Two people. Two people who – despite their best intentions – think of me as a man who has decided to become a woman. Two people who share an oppressive and violent thought pattern that does not recognize me as a woman. Two people who have that thought pattern in common with with James Dixon – the man who beat a trans-woman to death after cat-calling her in the street before realizing she was a trans-women.
Two people who – without intent or conviction – reflect the violence of the society that has programmed their understanding of gender and sexuality.
And that frightens me. If these two well-meaning people can slip and render casual violence against me in a safe space like me work has proven to be – what violence awaits me on the streets of downtown? In my neighborhood? In the grocery store? At the theater?
Suddenly, I do not feel terribly safe.
And while it does not make this easier to process in any way, shape or form, I get it. I understand. We are programmed with any number of inaccurate societal messages and harmful thought patterns. And they aren’t easy to reprogram.
It takes time. It takes effort. It takes empathy. It takes commitment. It takes practice.
If you’re reading this and you’ve a trans person in your life, it’s time to begin to That hard work. Time to reprogram your thought patterns. And I suggest reprogramming them with language. Language has the power to shape thought, so take control of your thoughts by altering your language – both spoken and internal.
Take the time. Make the effort. Be empathetic. Be committed. Practice.
Here are some phrases you can repeat to begin the process of rewriting those harmful and violent thought patterns:
- Trans-women are women. They have always been women. Their pronouns are she/her. Their pronouns have always been she/her.
- Trans-men are men. They have always been men. Their pronouns are he/him. Their pronouns have always been he/him.
- Non-binary trans people are neither men nor women. They have never been men nor women. Their pronouns are whatever they say they are. Their pronouns have always been whatever they say they’ve been.