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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 doesn’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 can’t really find them. There is the occasional web series, or a trans man played by a cisgender woman. There is “Boys Don’t Cry” 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 I’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 can’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 there’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 doesn’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 it’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 aren’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 it’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 can’t just ignore the responsibility to my community and to the larger conversation. I don’t have the luxury of being a cisgender white man who’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. It’s the weight of being a minority in a world not built for me. It’s the weight of knowing that what I write could save someone’s life (or do irreparable harm). It’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.

Photo Credit: Heo2035 via Compfight cc