image/svg+xml Hilary B.Bisenieks
April 07, 2022


honestly i’ve been sitting on this for a grip and just not quite knowing how to fit the words together, but i’m tired, y’all. so, visibility. of trans people, specifically.

it’s me. i’m trans people.

it took me a long time to understand that about myself, and i didn’t come to it on my own. i needed help. i needed to see that “trans” was a word that could describe me.

when i was little, i knew that i was weird. that i didn’t fit. that i didn’t act like the other little boys. that there were parts of me that i had to learn to hide to keep myself safe. that i couldn’t talk about with anyone because i didn’t have the language to capture it.

when i was in ninth grade, one of our history teachers came out as trans. we had an assembly where an administrator told us all that our teacher was a man now, that his pronouns were he/him, probably that misgendering him wouldn’t be tolerated. but he didn’t look like me.

i had a distant friend in high school who came out as trans. he didn’t look like me, either.

years before she came out as trans, my closest friend at school told me that she was bisexual. she was the first bi person i knew i knew. we would go to goth clubs and she would make out with people while i danced or stood against the wall and nodded my head along. even before we were really friends, i was drawn to her, wanted to be her friend more than anything. we went through a lot of hard times together, but she didn’t look like me.

she pierced my ears after high school. four holes i carry to this day, a little part of her with me all the time even though we haven’t seen each other in a decade.

in college, my friend asked that we use neopronouns for them, then they/them. the neopronouns were hard. we were young. i knew so many queer people in college, so many trans people. none of them looked like me.

that same friend came out to me and my spouse as genderqueer sometime before our wedding. i think that was the first time i’d heard the word. but i didn’t know it was something that could belong to me. not yet.

i “came out” to a friend one summer night while i was in college. we were driving to get snacks after a day of endless quaker committee meetings. i said that i’d only ever fallen for women before, but that i was open to the possibility that wouldn’t always be the case. i was in my first actual relationship then. years later, my ex came out as nonbinary. i didn’t think about that coming-out conversation again for a long time.

i came out as bi to my cat while i was driving her to the vet for dental surgery. she was upset because she was in the car, but i knew that she was someone i could trust with my “secret.” it wasn’t for another few weeks that i came out to my spouse and a few of my friends. i used to think of outness as a binary, even though it’s always been a spectrum. i’m out to some of my coworkers, mostly other queers, but not others. it’s not worth the discomfort. or it’s choosing the lesser of two levels of discomfort.

one time, my boss at the time said “everyone here is straight” in a meeting. he wore a rainbow strap on his apple watch in june. he’d like you to know that he’s an ally. i felt deeply uncomfortable about not saying anything, but also deeply uncomfortable about the idea of saying something. after i left that job, a former coworker confided in me that this boss pulled some classic cishet white dude stuff with them. i felt grateful that i hadn’t outed myself in that meeting long ago.

i found a copy of Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer at a bookstore the same summer that i left that job and bought it on the spot. i just thought it was neat. i knew that i needed it.

i read that book in a single sitting. i’ve re-read it more times than i can count since then.

Maia didn’t look like me, but i still saw myself in eir experiences in a way that i hadn’t experienced before. e was queer. queer as in weird. queer as in didn’t get social expectations for eir assigned gender. queer as in, well, queer.

a month or two later, i got a tattoo of a jackalope on my arm, but if you look closely, you’ll see that it’s a bunny wearing a pair of antlers that are tied on under their chin. when i designed the tattoo, i explained that that was about live-action roleplaying. maybe i believed it? but that’s not what it was really about, was it?

i had a gender crisis in 2020 at the start of the lockdown. if i’m being honest, i’d been having a gender crisis for years, quietly, tucked in the pages of journals hidden away where i didn’t have to look at them. but suddenly, it was just two adult humans and two cats all alone in a house, doing their grocery shopping at first light, uncomfortable with the idea of other people in a new way.

there was a lot of gender going around then.

i came out as genderqueer to my cat while i was driving her to another appointment. maybe you’re sensing a theme. she knows my secrets, but she’ll never talk.

i came out to my partner. it was easier, in some ways, and harder in others. “i’m attracted to more than one gender” is much more straightforward than “i’m genderqueer, but my pronouns are he/him, but my experience of gender is ????” i talked to my few close nonbinary friends about it. that really helped, because we had a shared vocabulary of “gender? what the fuck?”

i came out to my therapist.

he just didn’t get it. he was an older cishet white man. in one of our last sessions, he said that we should talk more about my gender. with my spouse’s help, i broke up with him and found a new therapist before i had to go through that ordeal. my new therapist is queer. she asked me what pronouns to use for me in our first session and told me to tell her if that changed. i started using he/they, then they/he, then just they/them pronouns within a couple months. not everywhere at first, but most places.

bigots started challenging Gender Queer earlier this year, or maybe at the end of last year. who knows when? time is fake. they call it pornographic. they call it smut.

i call it lifechanging.

it wasn’t until i was in my 30s that i started to see queer people who looked like me. it wasn’t until i read a memoir by a person whose early life experiences mirrored my own that i really learned language to talk about myself.

i like where i am in my life. yes, i’m anxious, and we’re all still out here with this pandemic and a global rise in fascism, but i know a lot more about myself, understand a lot more about myself at 35 than i did at 30, at 25, at 20. but that doesn’t stop me from wondering what my life might have looked like if i’d seen people like me when i was growing up.

i can’t change my past, but i can be visible for today’s kids. maybe some weird little boy will see me in the grocery store and gain some understanding that he didn’t have before. maybe a nonbinary teen will feel safer just existing knowing that they’re not alone. that’s what we mean when we talk about “trans visibility.” that’s why it’s important. because trans visibility produces trans adults, but trans invisibility produces miserable people, miserable kids. or dead ones.

trans visibility, queer visibility, is lifesaving.