I want it to be perfect. I want it to be the best thing I have ever written. I want it to say everything that I have to say on the subject. I know this is impossible, of course, but it doesnâ€™t change my wanting.
I know where it comes from; the complete and utter lack of stories that represent my life and identity. When I survey popular culture I still barely see any transgender men. As I look for books and movies and television shows that represent me I canâ€™t really find them. There is the occasional web series, or a trans man played by a cisgender woman. There is â€œBoys Donâ€™t Cryâ€ and the terrible Max storyline in The L Word. There are a couple of young adult books, but again they are written by cisgender people. I look around and I feel invisible.
I want to write the story Iâ€™m longing for; the story that makes me feel like I am not alone, the story that would give 15 year old me hope that there was a better future (or hell, any future at all).
I know that one story canâ€™t do all of the things I want it to. And even if I were to write my own story perfectly it wouldn’t reflect all of the various ways that transgender men live and move through the world. But in a world where there are so few stories told by us and for us, even one more story helps to make things a little better.
But thereâ€™s more than that:
I firmly believe that transgender people should have agency to tell their own stories. That we need stories that are about more than just transitioning. After all, life doesnâ€™t stop when you get your first shot or have your final surgery (should you choose medical interventions at all). Life continues; you love and live and learn. You break up and make up. You have a family, you start a family. We need stories about all of it. However, there is also the reality that most of our readers/viewers will be cisgender folks.
Cisgender folks are still mostly uneducated about transgender lives and realities. Even the cisgender folks who consider themselves allies get a lot wrong.
As a transgender writer it becomes a dance: how do I both tell my story authentically and also tell it in a way that it will be understood? How do I give people what they need even if itâ€™s not what they want? How do I tell stories and show images that are empowering for transgender people knowing they will be seen with a cisgender gaze?
For instance, in the new play I am writing there is a scene where two characters; a transgender man who is married to a cisgender woman, are getting ready for bed. I am considering the power of having the man do some of the scene shirtless. But I am stuck with the conundrum of who his shirtlessness serves? Is it empowering for a transgender man to be shirtless on stage? Or is it pandering to a cisgender gaze that is obsessed with scars and the evidence of transgender surgeries? Or is it both? Is there a way to both be empowering and stave off the cisgender surgery obsession?
If an audience is 95% cisgender and 5% transgender to whom does my responsibility lie? And can I manage to honor my own community when the cisgender community holds the power as ticket buyers and donors and audience members? Is there a way to center my story and my community while still having enough money to do the work that I need to do?
How do we move people past 101 when cisgender people arenâ€™t willing to do their work? How do we tell anything other than 101 stories when there are so few 101 stories that are any good? Every time I sit down to write all of this is in my head and itâ€™s frankly exhausting.
I know that all I can do is tell the story I am meant to tell, but as a marginalized person I canâ€™t just ignore the responsibility to my community and to the larger conversation. I donâ€™t have the luxury of being a cisgender white man whoâ€™s experience is considered so universal as to be able to write with specificity without consequence or a second thought.
Clearly I have a lot more questions than I have answers, but I feel this weight on me whenever I sit down to write. Itâ€™s the weight of being a minority in a world not built for me. Itâ€™s the weight of knowing that what I write could save someoneâ€™s life (or do irreparable harm). Itâ€™s the weight of of words on paper. Always the words on paper.
Still I write. Because it matters. Because I need to tell my story. Because other people need me to tell my story.