What it means to be: authenticity, community, and healing.

by not in that box

Preface: I identify as both Transgender and Non-Binary. I see ‘transgender’ as an identity for anyone who does not identify as cis, as well as an umbrella term that encompasses all non-cis a/gender identities. Some folks see ‘transgender’ as more of a binary identity that includes only transmen and transwomen. I don’t personally think that either is wrong and I support transfolks choice to define ‘transgender’ however they see fit.

The more I settle into myself, at least myself for the time being, the more I experience surprising parallels between transgender and mixed-race identity*.

A few months ago, during the first (always awkward) week of school, one of my professors instructed the class (myself included) to create a list of “Community Rules”. Most of them were familiar: Step up, step back, One voice, one mic, etc. There was one, though, that really stuck out to me:

“Be authentic.”

I immediately felt my chest tighten upon reading it. I felt as though someone had offered that rule with me in mind. I felt as though someone had seen me, in all my contradictions, and thought to themselves “this person needs a reminder of who they aren’t”. It’s been months, but the notion of authenticity has sat heavy in my heart.

But what is authenticity, and what does it mean to be authentic, and why does it matter?

Folks will say that I’m not authentically transgender because my experience as a trans person is not authenticated through popular transgender discourse. I do not feel like I was born in the wrong body, I do not have any desire to undergo surgery or HRT, and I do not conform to ideas of what it means to be truly masculine or truly feminine because I do not see these as mutually exclusive categories. I am what folks might call a “transtrender” (a term used by both cis and trans folks to devalue and invalidate experiences that do not match with mainstream perceptions of what it means to be trans).  There are a ton of transfolk like me, we’re just not as visible as others.

Folks will say that I am not authentically a person of color. One of my parents fully benefits in our white-supremacist system, the other, a fierce WoC,  is hurt by its continued and unrelenting violence. But I am also not authentically white. Between a childhood spent with non-property owning, addict parents in a predominately low income, PoC part of town, and my personal politics and presentation, it doesn’t take long for the light skin and thin lips to come into question. I am simultaneously the colonizer and the colonized, but I qualify as neither.

More often than not, all of these identities leave me without any sort of community to come home to because I can’t fulfill someone else’s idea of what it means to be authentic (which, more often than not, has to do more with fulfilling some racist, sexist, or transphobic stereotype than it has anything to do with being “real”).

And why does it matter?

It matters because I would like to heal too, and a community is where collective healing takes place.

So where do I go?

How does one pay for the price of admission when they don’t have the correct currency?

How does one engage in collective healing when there is no collective to be a part of?

If you know the answers, consider sharing them with me.

Because I have no clue.


*[I’m not utilizing the term ‘being’ intentionally. I don’t subscribe to essentialism (in it’s many forms) or biological determinism and I don’t feel that folks are intrinsically anything in particular. I feel like we use constructed terms to describe our constructed selves the best we can. Sometimes these terms fit, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we create new terms, and sometimes we recycle old terms. On that same note, I do not deny that the biological changes that come with generational trauma, violence, and genocide are 100% real. They indeed are.]