Approaching thoughts about people who identify as transgender

Tina and I have been watching the most recent season of Queer Eye on Netflix. On S2E5, the fab five work with Skyler, a trans man who recently had top surgery to make his chest flat.

In the episode, some of the fab five admit that they know very little about the transgender community and that they, as LGBTQ citizens, had to educate themselves on different aspects of who they (transgendered people) are, what they’re about and what’s going on with them. For example, stylist Tan France talked about how he lives in a bubble, knows very little about the trans community and isolates himself with his husband in their lives.

During the episode, Skyler talks about who his role models are, who are the celebrities he idolizes and why. He talks about the pain of looking at his chest and seeing breasts when all he wanted to see was flatness. Or how he hated his hips.

He lived for almost 30 years in a woman’s body, and all he longed for was to live as a man.

Skyler also talked about his celebrity crush, a Youtube sensation named Todrick Hall, whose performances bend gender ideas and roles. Skyler admits during the episode that he doesn’t mind looking into a wardrobe that’s androgynous. He likes the idea of owning a suit, but also having items of clothing that might be considered feminine. You really have to watch the episode to understand.

There’s been a lot more discussion of transgendered people in the news lately. With the Vermont candidate for governor Christine Hallquist as well as all kinds of discussion of trans children receiving death threats from parents at schools.

The topic has sparked conversation between Tina and me. We admit feeling ignorant about transgendered people, but feel somewhat fortunate because we aren’t complete idiots either. We live in Chicago near the Center on Halsted that’s connected to a Whole Foods. It appears to be an amazing haven for the LGBTQ community to thrive, express themselves and get information.

Every year at the Gay Pride Parade, we see the most beautiful people dressed as the sex they identify as, and it makes me happy. Gay Pride is one of the best things ever, and I wish more people were able to experience it.

I can’t say I’m completely comfortable with the whole idea of transgender. Watching that episode of Queer Eye was hard at times. I found myself struggling to identify Skyler as completely male. I’ve found myself struggling to always hit the right pronoun note. But I struggle sometimes with calling my married friends husbands. It’s just not stuff that rolls off my tongue, and that’s okay.

Or I was listening to an interview with Christine Hallquist and all I could hear was a man. I had to look her up to make sure I had a visual image. It helped. But didn’t set my straight brain straight.

I grew up in an evangelical home. I identified as an outspoken Christian. And did my best to be perfect at that “lifestyle” choice of telling others about the “love” of Christ, the salvation awaiting them and the awesomeness of eternal life in heaven. I told many people they, or someone they know, were going to roast in hell for eternity for “choosing” to be gay. For choosing the sinful gay lifestyle.

It wasn’t until I actually met, made friends with, and became family with gay people that I finally erased those dumb thoughts imposed on me by the ignorance of dusty old books and stupid ideas of what is and isn’t sin.

I have a hard time when my brother-in-law tells me about a sex-capade with a new beau, but I don’t like when dudes tell me about straight sex. I’m not a huge fan of two men kissing, but a lesbian scene in pornography doesn’t bother me a bit. I live in a weird concept of what is and isn’t okay.

And then there’s the whole idea of gender bending, androgyny and not completely identifying as 100% male or female. And that’s where my interest is peaked.

Fifteen years ago I came out as “atheist”. If you pushed my head toward the fire, I probably would land in an agnostic label. There was a point when I had to say, “Man, if I’m 51% against and 49% for the concept of god, then I’m going to have to go with naming myself an atheist.

It’s a generalization, though.

You can’t be “sure” that there’s no god. I just don’t agree with any of the information I’ve heard regarding god. And if Christianity, Islam or Judaism are the best manifestations of god’s interaction with humanity, damn, that’s a low bar for excellence.

The thing is my identity is bending all the time. There are times when I don’t want to identify as a Witteveen, because I don’t think it represents who I am as a person. I don’t always identify as a photographer, or filmmaker or artist. I don’t always identify as the best husband, or the best partner. I don’t always identify as democrat or republican or independent. There’s always someone or something (some concept) that turns my stomach and makes me want to identify against my identity.

As a photographer specializing in interiors and architecture, I hang out with a lot of gay people, and they’re way more accepting and familial with me than some folks in my own family. Why? I don’t know. It’s a mystery. It could be a lot of ideas that I could speculate about, but who cares to speculate.

Yesterday, Tina and I watched an episode of Project Runway. On it, there’s a German guy who is an outspoken atheist. He was wearing a necklace that, for all intents and purposes, placed the word “ATHEIST” where a cross might be on a Christian.

There was a moment when I was like, “Man, I should be that dude.” I should be so loud and proud, like so many of my LGBTQ friends, that it’s unmistakable what I stand for. But then my insecure self, my thoughtful self, my empathetic self says, “No, that might make someone feel uncomfortable.”

But so many don’t care like that. So many wear their Christianity literally around their necks. Or they talk about it almost incessantly. And any word that is negative about their “opinions” are considered attacks.

There are times when I hear the calling to be a more outspoken person for a community. And maybe I need to be a more outspoken person for the community of people who have simply left the church, struggle to find an identity that properly labels them, and don’t think agnostic or atheist is exact enough. People who love everyone. People who listen, and want to know more, rather than bowl people over with opinions and nonsense.

I’m comfortable with not having an defined identity, but I’m also opposed to being forced into some pigeon-holed identity based on ill-defined words or monikers. As much as Christians rail against the idea that “being a christian” is perceived as negative in this country, there are so many who correctly note that the word atheist is worse than pedophile.

That blows my mind.

It seems everyone struggles with perceptions of identities that create senses of insecurities … but also lumps people into a zone of having mental illness.

Oh, you’re a democrat, you’re mentally ill.

You’re a transgender? You’re mentally ill.

You’re a Christian? You’re mentally ill.

You’re an atheist? You’re mentally ill.

You’re a human? You’re mentally ill.

I understand that so many people might see that Queer Eye episode and let the gender-bending identities inform their ignorance and ignite antagonism against transgendered people.

And I’m also getting a better handle on how if you identify 100% as something, that means you’re the enemy of someone else. It’s a mind-numbing cyclical explosion of bullshit.

There’s part of me that wishes more people didn’t 100% identify as one thing. It might make the world a better place. “I identify as 50% Christian, but I have my doubts, so maybe 30% agnostic and 20% atheist.”

Or whatever.

“I identify as republican, but I don’t agree with our president on so many things, so put me down as a 49% republican, 30% independent and whatever else as democrat.”

Or whatever.

“I identify as a lot human, with a attributes of so many different species that make up my DNA, compassionate and friendly as a dog, as gentle as an elephant, as strong as a lion, weak as a mouse, loving as a cat, angry as a hawk, intelligent as a squid.”

And that would be a dream.

These thoughts are ever evolving and should not be isolated to one blog post. I could write forever on this topic as well as so many others.

Thanks for reading and your thoughts are certainly appreciated.

One thought on “Approaching thoughts about people who identify as transgender

  1. This is such a wonderful post Jeremy. It is exactly how I see the world.I also cannot be defined as being this or being like that. My opinions change as I learn more about things that I knew nothing about. Perceived ideas can be very harmful, especially when they were thought out by people with agendas.In leaving church and religion behind, I feel more free to accept people who are different and funny enough, I can spread the love that Christians boast about, without any hampering whatsoever.This is a topic that one can talk about for hours, but I summarise that I have never felt more at peace with myself, than now, without the shackles that religious humans with bad ideas, have clamped around most people’s ankles.

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