Barneys Launches Spring Campaign Featuring Transgender Models, and their Families


Very cool, well done Barneys!

Originally posted on National Center for Transgender Equality's Blog:

Thank Barneys New York for Supporting Transgender People:

Barneys New York became the first major retailer to launch a campaign exclusively featuring the lives and stories of diverse transgender models and their family members.

The campaign, called “Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters,” was shot by renowned American fashion photographer and filmmaker Bruce Weber whose photographs have also appeared in GQ, Vogue, and Rolling Stone covering brands like Calvin Klein, Versace, and Ralph Lauren. Each model was interviewed by longtime arts journalist, and Contributing Editor at Vanity Fair, Patricia Bosworth.

The Spring 2014 campaign created a safe space for models from diverse walks of life–from African American Ball culture in NYC to life in Tulsa, Oklahoma–to share their empowering struggles and inspiring victories. These stories highlight the enduring connections and support of family, friends, and community members that showcase the deep roots of transgender people in American culture…

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Doubting and Self-Shaming

As should be no surprise to those who’ve read my pre-transition posts, I very much enjoy waffling around on things.  Or rather, I just so happen to do this very well, and very  naturally.  Maybe it’s a byproduct of my dysthymia, anxiety, depression, take your pick–regardless, I’ve become a master at self-deprecation and self-doubt.  And if I don’t doubt myself, I find ways to shame myself for being “too sure” of myself.

For example, around the start of December I started doubting my transition and identity.  I woke up and, as I was headed off to work, saw an old postcard from my sister on the coffee table.  It was a relic long lost in my sister’s belongings, which she’d gone through over Thanksgiving while visiting our family.  So voila, a two-year-old postcard arrived at my apartment with my old name scattered sporadically throughout the contents of the message.

A nasty little voice in the back of my head seized on this opportunity to lambaste me into the next decade.  I was forcibly reminded of how, on the whole, I hadn’t minded being called “Steph”; it was only the feminine pronouns that inevitably followed the name that I hated.  “Steph” wasn’t overly girly, not in my mind, and so for 22 years it suited me well.  Why change my name when there was nothing wrong with it, the voice reasoned.  Why put your family and friends through such an inconvenient and difficult change, just because you couldn’t cope with the pronouns?  After all, now that I pass as male, couldn’t I just show up and be he’d even if I said my name was Steph?

For a good week or two I was rather depressed about my transition and beating myself up over the decisions I had or would soon be making on my behalf.  For a day I even contemplated cancelling my top surgery.  But the voice of reason (a.k.a my therapist) as well as my own common sense finally kicked in.

I didn’t force anyone to change.  I’m the only one who’s electing for change–and these changes are for my own benefit.  I’m transforming myself into a person I can stand to be around, someone who is happy and enjoys the life I’ve been given.

Some of the doubt and shame comes from negative experiences with friends and my girlfriend’s family, experiences which sadly left me jaded toward more dogmatic forms of Christianity.  But a greater portion originates within myself, which is more commonly known internalized transphobia; that is, a prevailing sense of negativity about transgenderism which is taken and directed inward.  Every negative stereotype, slur, or attitude about being transgender that I’ve ever come into contact with–regardless of its validity–eventually makes its way back around.  And depending on the space I’m in, I’m more or less likely to believe the transphobic thoughts, even if I know in my heart that they’re not true.

So why doubt my transition?  Because there are people out there who do, and will make arguments against the progress I’ve made within myself.  And the first step I need to take is to take back control of myself and my identity.  For my own sanity and health, I cannot let others control who I am and what I’ve chosen to do with my life.  There are so many more people in my life who are supportive of me and have been with me through everything that’s transpired in the past two years…so why focus on the few who haven’t?  And why leave myself open to those anonymous people who would do nothing but cause me grief just for being who I am?

As I start yet another new year, I resolve to examine myself with a more open and positive eye, and to allow myself to love who I am and who I’m becoming every day.  While I will invariably doubt myself from time to time, I go into it with the knowledge that I’m myself, through and through, and I have never once made any decision lightly.  As God so aptly put it, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh.”  I am that I am.  If God can say this, and I’m made in God’s image, then by every god that’s ever existed, so can I.

A Call for Submissions/Volunteers

I have been dreaming of creating a queer mish-mash of resources for the broader queer community.  This involves creating a YouTube, Facebook, and WordPress account and melding them together to help inform and support those who feel under- or misrepresented by the LGBT+ community.  If this describes you and you wish to help me with this endeavor, please comment below.  With your help we can give my dream some wings to soar!


The Same Old Story

I have a beef to pick with you.  By you I mean trans people, I mean cis people, and basically I just mean society in general.  Here’s the thing: Yes, I’m transgender.  Yes, there are a lot of trans people out there.  But please pardon me for becoming just slightly irritated when I flip through my Facebook news feed, or my YouTube subscriptions, or even posts here on WordPress and find this narrative:

“Hello, I’m trans, and I’m switching from X to Y / Y to X.  I was born in the wrong body, and should have been an X/Y when instead I was born Y/X.”

At this point, I think it’s fairly safe to say that American society knows what it means to be transgender.  Heck, even Vice President Joe Biden said that the transgender rights movement is “the civil rights issue of our time.”  And yes, as a trans individual, that makes me incredibly happy.  But now that the term transgender is becoming a lot more mainstream, I find it high time that society started playing some catch up.  Because believe me, it has a lot of catching up to do.

From one trans person to you…I wasn’t born in the wrong body.  No, you heard me: I really wasn’t.  I don’t identify as X switching to Y, if if there are only two endpoints on the scale of gender identity.  Simply put, I don’t buy into the typical transgender narrative.  Sure, this narrative may apply to a good amount of trans individuals, but the term “transgender” is an umbrella term for genderqueer, gender neutral, neutrois, agender, two spirit, bigender, pangender…I could go on.  So yes, when I see only two elements of being trans put on display for others to see, especially in an educational fashion, I get a little twitchy.

I can’t describe how frustrating it is, in an already marginalized community, to talk with people and have to explain the basic essence of who you are.  Think about how much worse it is for non-trans individuals to try and understand where you’re coming from when all they get out of the word “transgender” is “boy switching to girl” or “girl switching to boy”.  It’s not that simple sometimes.  Oh, how nice it would be if everything were that easy, but newsflash: life just isn’t simple.  Our own identifies are never that cut and dry.  So please, don’t expect someone else’s to be that easy.

A Letter to My Cisgender Friends

I’ve been sitting on this for a while now, but I’ve wanted to write this post ever since I realized one integral, powerful, and unfortunate reality of being transgender.  I’m only one person, so I can’t speak for the whole of the trans community; but I think it’s reasonably safe to say that when we transition, we transition for ourselves.  So sometimes it’s striking that other people — that is, people who aren’t involved in our transitions at all — don’t always take this the right way.  We get belittled, degraded, disowned, discriminated against, glared at, whispered about, have our names and pronouns purposefully ignored…you get the picture.

So this reality of being trans isn’t so much about how things are for trans people, but rather how things aren’t for cisgender individuals.  Put simply, it’s next to impossible for cis folk to fully understand what we’re going through.  I suspect that a lot of the negativity surrounding trans identities stems from this simple fact.  We fear what we don’t know, we doubt what we can’t readily explain, and we react poorly because of it.  And I get that.  But I also get that too many people suffer because of the tendency of others to react, as opposed to challenging what so many assume to be static: the state of being male or female.

I too have had my share of pain at the hands of ignorance*.  It ate me up, swallowed me whole, and by the time I resurfaced I still couldn’t comprehend why something so straightforward (or not always straightforward) as my transition equated to me “falling into temptation”** or “being on the wrong path”.  And after a year or so I’ve finally figured it out.  We all come from different walks of life, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that we tend to balk against things we don’t easily wrap our heads around.

I want to take some time to explain myself as transparently as I possibly can.  Again,

I'm the optimist in this lineup.  And maybe the realist and linguist.  But definitely the optimist.
I’m the optimist in this lineup. And maybe the realist and linguist. But definitely the optimist.

I’m no trans poster child.  But I’m an optimist at heart, and I’d like to think that if I can delineate the trans experience — or more specifically my experience — then maybe, just maybe some ignorance can be ratified.  This letter is for my friends, or really anybody, who identifies as cisgender.  Or doesn’t.  I’m not all that fussed about labels.

Delineation time, here we go.


Dear Cisgender Friend,

Imagine that you come into this world, and like all tiny humanoids you’re trying your darnedest to try and make sense of the world around you.  You take some wobbly steps around, listen to foreign noises, and explore the ground with your gustatory senses.  Pretty standard.  And so you get older, gathering certain facts and tidbits that start to make up your understanding of the world.  For one thing, the ground is not to be tasted.  For another, there are girls and boys, and make no mistake: they are not interchangeable.  Girls are girls for X(X) reasons, and boys are boys for (X)Y reasons.  Boys like trucks, wear pants, and have penises.  Girls like dolls, wear skirts, and have their own equally different private parts.  Cliché, I know, but bear with me.

As a kid you don’t necessarily put too much stock in people being boys or girls — after all, you’re all just kids, and you can play with whomever you fancy.  But suddenly, around the time you’re in middle school, all of this gender stuff starts to become strangely important.  It seems like everyone you know, even those closest to you, are moving in different directions while you’re standing still.  Your guy friends start to be a bit more closed off, and act like jerks for no apparent reason.  Your girl friends start becoming overly obsessed with clothes, makeup, and guys.  And you start to feel like you missed out on some kind of How to Be a Teenager class, because none of these options really seem to fit you.  Alternatively, your friends and family are telling you that you need to be doing the girl stuff…but if you had a choice, you’d really rather be doing the guy things***.

This is how I felt about myself and my gender, circa 2001.

This lasts throughout middle school and high school, and so those feelings of feeling different, left behind, slow, and other start to build up.  You’re also strangely discontent with your body, but it’s not in the typical way that girls around you complain about their physique.  Baggy clothes feel a lot better against your skin, because drawing attention to your obviously feminine body makes your skin crawl.  And ever so slowly, the people around you start to pick up on your otherness.  Some stick with you, but others — a lot of people, actually — gradually start parting company with you.  Worst case scenario is becoming the local pariah, but you try not to let this thought get to you.

Enter college.  Between your slew of liberal arts courses and exciting new acquaintances you start to understand that individuality is okay.  You experiment with labels and relationships, but things still feel off.  Then one day you find it.  Maybe it’s a video on YouTube, or a Wikipedia article, NBC article, New York Magazine article, or a video showing women who’ve elected to have their breasts removed.  But suddenly the individual pieces of your life start to fuse together.  You realize there are options for you to feel more comfortable as you.  Chest surgery is a definite.  Hormones are an option.

You experiment more.  You come to realize that it feels a whole heck of a lot better to be mistaken for “sir” than to be called “ma’am” out in public.  You bind your chest to make it look flat, and you are crazy about that new, manly physique in the mirror.  But increasing discomfort with your body, secondary sex characteristics, and even your name — also known as dysphoria — make life not only difficult, but at times unbearable.  And so you come to yet another realization: you can’t keep living as you are, as you have been for the majority of your life up until this point.  You have to make changes for your own mental health and general sanity.

And yeah, it’s hard to part with the life you’ve known until this point.  Let’s be realistic here.  Your friends and family know you as a girl and, nowadays, a young woman.  People call you by the name Steph, and even in its comfortable familiarity it feels like someone shoves a hot poker into your stomach every time you’re called by this name.  It’s like you’re two separate people inhabiting the same body: your old self, and the person you desperately want to become.

‘Nuff said.

This is where I’m at right now.  I’ve taken steps to becoming the person I want to be for the rest of my life.  I’m working towards other milestones such as chest reconstruction surgery, because I’ve never, ever been comfortable having breasts (and trust me, I’d gladly give you my 32Bs in a heartbeat).  For the first time in my life I’m comfortable hearing the sound of my own voice, and I take pride in taking care of my personal appearance for a change of pace.  And, so I’ve been told, I’m much more fun to be around now that I’m not constantly hating myself and the mere fact of my existence.

Please know that I love you, and I respect your decision to either agree, disagree, or not really care one way or the other about the choices I’ve made in my life.  I only ask that, in return, you respect the decisions I’ve made and will continue to make in my journey.  By respect I mean these four things:

1. Please call me Brannen.  Not Steph, unless you’ve made an honest mistake and said it out of habit.  You can even avoid naming me altogether, I don’t care.  But please don’t call me by my old name.

2. Please refer to me with masculine pronouns: he, him, his, etc.  Use feminine pronouns and I will immediately cease conversation and fall into one of those awkward, stubborn silences that I’m all too good at.  Although I will be understanding if you again made an honest mistake, or if you struggle in the switch of pronouns.  I will not hold it against you, but I expect you to at least make an effort.

3. Along the same lines, please talk about me in the masculine sense.  As your brother, nephew, grandson, guy friend, boyfriend, etc.  I also do not mind in the slightest if you call me by neutral titles: friend, child, grandchild, significant other, partner, BFF…seriously, I don’t mind.

4. Last but not least, please don’t try to convince me that I’m wrong, or perverted, or just going through a phase.  Don’t give me information — however well-intended — about how I can keep myself from falling into temptation and the devil’s clutches**.  Don’t doubt my decisions and caution me against them for fear that I’ll change my mind.  As with all things in my life, I did not make this decision lightly.  Read the previous seven paragraphs if you don’t believe me.  But trying to convince me that I’m somehow wrong to have made these decisions can only lead to enmity between us.

Again, I love you with all my heart, and since I’m writing this to you I can only assume that you love me similarly.  It’s out of this place of mutual love that I decided to write to you and explain a little bit (well, a lot) of how I came to be where I am today.  If you have any questions for me, if there’s anything I can help you understand or feel more comfortable about, please do not hesitate to respond to this letter.  I will more than gladly grab a tea and bagel with you and we can talk about whatever you want.

I hope to talk with you soon.  Provided there’s tea, of course.




*By “ignorance” I mean the straight-up dictionary definition: the state of lacking knowledge, information, learning, etc.

**Oh, the obligatory warning: I am not being anti-any religion.  I quite enjoy religions.  It just so happens my personal example is somewhat…enmeshed in a thoroughly Christian view of the world.

***Again, this is my experience.  Themes related to being transmasculine and/or gender neutral are simply a part of my experience.  Feel free to insert your own applicable experiences in place of these.

Passing the Test

On the last weekend in July I successfully asserted my newfound sense of manhood by engaging in one of the most manly activities known to humankind: starting a charcoal grill and cooking hamburgers.  It felt as though a lot of things were converging on my ability to properly feed 8+ people off of a crappy park grill on that windy day.  For starters, I was there with six of my clients from work, all of whom are girls in their mid-teens.  Secondly, I was also there with two coworkers, both of whom are female.  As the sole representative from “the other half”, I was given the enjoyable task of preparing and cooking our entire picnic, helped by two of the clients who would stand behind me and scold me on using too much lighter fluid and matches.  (As I tried to explain to them, there is no such thing as “too much lighter fluid,” and the matches probably hadn’t been used since the Dark Ages.)

But more importantly it seemed like a test, one that if failed would cause my carefully crafted facade of “man” to come crashing down around me.  This is the identity I only bring with me to work, but it’s an important one; a residential treatment facility is no place to go prancing about proclaiming my trans status.  After at least a half-hour of limited success, the grill sputtered to life and all nine of us were served.  I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that the girls (nor my coworkers, for that matter) weren’t questioning my manliness that particular day.

I thought about it a lot after that weekend, wondering why it was so important to me.  I mean, I still try and be as gender-indifferent at work as possible.  I threaten to paint my nails with them in the evenings.  I joke around with them on the subject of hair and makeup.  And when any of the clients start bashing men or say “You’re being a total girl” about anything, I get on my soapbox and debate gender norms with them.  I’ve even come out to some of my more accepting coworkers since working full-time on my current unit.  So why do I care so much about being seen as a man?

I think part of it is the original agreement I made with HR just after I started working there.  Paradoxically enough I’ve had many a discussion with my very accepting supervisor about my trans status and the pros and cons of being part of The Community, while confirming my belief (or is it the agency’s?) that the workplace is absolutely not the place to be out as transgender.  And then I hear tell from my clients that a staff I don’t even know is telling one of them that I “must have had a sex change, because there’s no way that’s a man.”  Or one client insists that another client told her that I “used to be a girl”, who then turns around behind my back and tells another client the same thing before she’s discharged.  I hear whispers and rumors, and have to tell half-truths to cover up my past, all for the sake of being A Man At Work.

I’m fairly sure the rest of it is just societal pressure.  I’ve gone over to The Dark Side, so I need to use my Jedi powers accordingly.  Which, in the summer in Central Illinois, clearly means I must wear shorts and baseball caps season-round while grilling out at a local park for my clients.  And congratulations to me, I passed the test.  I’m still the same person as I was before the burgers started grilling, at least in my eyes.  I can only wonder if society thinks the same thing — and I’m betting it’s not.


As I’ve began and subsequently continued on what I like to call “my gender journey”, bravery is a topic that’s been put on me by others, yet at the same time has been dancing just out of reach.  There have been a good handful of people who’ve told me over the past year and a half that what I’m doing is very brave, that it must have taken a lot of courage to come out, and that ultimately since I’ve “always known” I’m trans, there’s an element of bravery inherent to my transitioning to be myself.

I feel this is wrong on multiple levels.  First and most blatantly, I haven’t always known that I’m transgender.  This is the prevailing attitude within, or about, the trans community: we’ve known we were “different” since we could put it into words, and our existence up until when we begin transition is a never-ending roller coaster of bodily angst and depression.  While this might be a common experience shared by many trans folk, I’m not one of those people.  Even when I realized there were transgender people in this world — between when I was 15 and 17 years old — I still didn’t understand that this would be my life path, too.  I felt a thrill of excitement when I saw a Grey’s Anatomy episode depicting a young girl who, upon discovering she’s intersex, decides to transition to be a boy.  When one of my good friends came out as trans in 11th grade I knew at once that I needed to support her, for reasons I couldn’t explain to myself.  But ultimately it took me until I was 20 to realize that I might also be transgender and to begin learning about what steps I could take to transition to be more fully myself.

Secondly, I fail to see how coming out is a courageous act.  Particularly in this day and age, many people who come out as anything along the LGBTQIA spectrum aren’t as likely to encounter resistance as they were even five years ago.  Granted, there are some identities which are more marginalized than others.  And yes, for some people and their individual situations, it takes a great deal of courage to approach people and explain their identity as trans.  But for me personally, even if I can claim any amount of bravery in coming out, I chose what I consider to be the more cowardly ways of coming out; I wrote my sister a letter detailing my “lesbian” identity at age 19, and a poem that I “accidentally” left out for my father to see at age 22.  Did I have numerous discussions with my family about my potential transition?  Of course I did.  But discussing a theoretical notion and committing to a new name, identity, and years of medical interventions are two completely different things…and I often have commitment issues when making decisions.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve had a great deal of people try to convince me that my transition is incredibly brave of me to do.  This is my main beef with the whole “being trans is brave” argument.  Did elements of bravery come along in this gender journey?  I won’t deny that I’ve had my moments.  But ultimately I’m living my life, making decisions to ensure a better quality of life, and taking action to feel more comfortable in my own skin.  That’s not bravery.  That’s just the reality of my situation.  I won’t bemoan my lot in life, or seek others’ approval or encouragement as I live my life; I’m just being myself and living my life.  This admittedly might be difficult for cisgender individuals to comprehend, but I maintain that if you ask my girlfriend, my best friends, or any member of my immediate family about the decisions I’ve made up until this point, they’ll agree that it’s not a matter of bravery, but of necessity.

I wish I could claim that my gender transition is a matter of Gryffindor-like proportions, but ultimately it’s not.  I’m just being myself, however different it may look from mainstream society.  So please don’t put your misguided or even sanctimonious views of courage on me — I have quite enough to be getting on with by myself.

13 in 2013: Victory in Delaware


Yay for Delaware!

Originally posted on National Center for Transgender Equality's Blog:

Today transgender people in Delaware celebrate the passage of a statewide Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Bill. Governor Markell pledged to sign the bill within an hour of passage, making Delaware the seventeenth state to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity alongside California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

NCTE pitched in on efforts to pass the Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Bill through training and support to Equality Delaware. Executive Director Mara Keisling praised key players: “Equality Delaware and Governor Markell have put in a lot of hard work to get this bill through. Delaware showed up big for transgender rights today.”

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Am I “Man” Enough Yet?

Perhaps it’s due to a recent bout of insomnia, or maybe there’s something in there air here in Urbana, Illinois.  I don’t know.  But as of late I’ve felt restless, discontent, and — in all honesty — I’ve been hating myself.  Before I get into this, let me be clear on the fact that I’ve done a considerable amount of work on myself, and while I realize depression and its ill effects are never truly gone, I thought I was well clear of this kind of thinking.  And a good amount of the time I am.  I know a plethora of ways to change my thinking to be less detrimental to my self-image and well-being, if not overtly positive.

But lately there’s been something deeper to my thoughts and angst, something that I’ve had trouble pinning down until this particular sleepless night.  It’s a question that’s plagued me since before I began transitioning, since before I even recognized my need to come out and start medically transitioning.  I remember another night in Germany, where I was kept up by the ever-present thoughts and concerns about my gender identity.  Eventually I made my way over to my computer and made a video journal, a video which is forever lost in my old laptop’s semi-fried hard drive.  (Side note: if anyone ever wanted to try digging this video out for me, I have the hard drive still as an external back-up.)  Halfway through my tired ramblings I stopped dead, a sick kind of realization overcoming me:

Maybe I’m a man.  am a man.  Can I be a man?

The individual dots of events throughout my life suddenly started connecting, like some kind of cosmic number art portrait that had my gender as its finished image.  In one brief moment of clarity, my childhood frustrations and current struggles all made sense under the tentatively whispered thought in my head: “Maybe you were supposed to have been a boy, Steph.”

I immediately put this thought aside, terrified by what its implications might lead to.  I’ve since begun my journey of medically and legally transitioning, yet it’s only now, almost 9 months on T, that the thought has wriggled its way back into my consciousness.  And sitting here now, I can’t help but ponder the same thing.  Am I a man?  Am I even allowed to be one?  As it is, I’ve never officially told my family, my friends, or even myself that I’m A Man.  Transgender, yes.  Transitioning to a more masculine way of being, of course.  But I’ve never felt the need — or had the courage — to utter those three words.

As I mentioned, I’ve been hating myself.  Maybe part of that is because I don’t see myself for who I truly am.  Maybe it’s because I’m still too scared to allow myself to be who I truly am.  And yeah, a good portion is related to mental illness, but those are battles I know how to fight.  I’ve just never been good at standing up for myself, or having the strength to be myself, totally and unconditionally.

This is my goal, starting now.  I need to learn how to accept myself completely.  I can’t take much more of these sleepless nights.