Shannon T.L. Kearns
Shannon T.L. Kearns
What I’ve Learned By Being Transgender
Shannon T.L. Kearns > What I’ve Learned By Being Transgender


photo credit: Hillary Olson


In light of everything in the news about transgender people I’ve been reflecting on my own journey and what it’s taught me. This list is by no means complete, and some of it is silly (because gasp trans people can have fun, too!!) but I wanted to share what I’ve learning and celebrate a bit.

Who my true friends…and family are

You’d be surprised at the number of people who claim to be allies who have actively worked to sideline me or who have made my identity a burden on them. These are people who have claimed that it’s just so hard to love a transgender person, who have gotten grants for their work “with” the transgender community, who speak over transgender people.

The people who are my true friends and family are the people who love me unconditionally. Who don’t make me feel hard to love because I am transgender. They respect my identity and my body. They don’t make my transness about them. They don’t make me feel badly about being who I am. They actually work in solidarity with me and don’t try to talk over me.

What it feels like to be marginalized….and how different marginalizations intersect

I intimately know what it means to be a marginalized person. To have my voice and opinions and body maligned. To lack access to rights and safety and opportunities that other people take for granted. And in that intimate knowing I am also made aware of the privilege that I hold. Becoming intimate with marginalization has made me want to work harder for all marginalized people. It has made me aware of how class and race and gender and expression and access all intersect to make some people more at risk than others. These intersections mean that the fight for justice can never be fought on a single front; we have to work on all of the fronts at once. Hard? Absolutely. Daunting? Yes. And also vital to the liberation of ALL people.

How screwed up people are about gender….and gender expression…and sexuality

People don’t understand the differences between those three things. And they get really upset when they think they understand them and don’t and you tell them what’s true. They also get really hung up on stuff that doesn’t matter like what body parts people have and how they have sex. When really if we all just had healthier (and more informed) relationships with our bodies and sexuality the world would be so much better.

How awesome pockets are

Seriously pockets are incredible. And as a dude who presents as a dude I have so many pockets to choose from.

How to be a better boyfriend

I am not afraid to buy tampons or go bra shopping. I can empathize with your cramps and period pain. I don’t believe that my experience as a transgender man helps me to understand what it means to move through the world as a woman. (Some people do and that’s fine but that’s not my experience. I’ve been gender non-conforming since I was a kid so I was never treated as “a woman”.) But I do know a bit about how some of your bodily functions work and how they can suck sometimes. I do know what it means to be silenced and talked over because of your gender. I know what it’s like to be told that you aren’t fit for ministry. And while I shouldn’t have had to experience those things to work in solidarity with you my experience of those things allows me to empathize in a way that cisgender men simply cannot.

How to be a better man

I realize that it is not a “woman’s job” to do emotional labor in the relationship. Or to clean the house. Or to cook dinner. I don’t buy into toxic masculinity and have worked hard to unlearn it in myself. I am okay with my emotions, with crying, with being sensitive and loving and kind. Having to craft and create my own masculinity has been eye-opening. I am aware of things that are taken for granted by cisgender people and it has helped me to make sure that I am not perpetuating systems of oppression unconsciously. I have had to choose which parts of masculinity are healthy for me (and other) and which ones are not. This conscious and intentional work has made me a better man.

How to be a better person

Full stop. Had I been born as anything other than what I am I would not be the person I am today. I firmly believe that all of the struggles that I have encountered on my journey have made me more empathetic, kinder, stronger, and more fired up to work for justice than I would have been otherwise.

In spite of everything it has cost me, in spite of how reviled my identity continues to be, I will say loudly: I am proud to be a transgender man.

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