What they don’t understand about the Transgender Experience

Lance Klemple, Contributing Writer

When people look at me, they notice my curly brown beard and mustache, my Adam’s apple, and my trapezius muscles that I am fond of working out. But a first glance, a conversation, even further into a friendship, does not tell you my entire story. My name is Lance Klemple, and I am a transgender man.

Now, most transgender people in pop culture will describe their childhood or their earlier years as “feeling different” than everyone else, while that rings true to me and the experience of some other transgender people, I want to talk about something beyond our younger years: Budding adulthood. Like many of us, my story begins just on the cusp of adulthood, when I left my family behind to start university in Waterloo, Canada.

The whiteboard stretched its body across the entire length of the front of the lecture hall with green and red equations like festive decorations against the snow. Ten minutes early and no sign of students or teacher. A few minutes roll by and tired students lug their heavy bags into their desired seats. Once our professor came in, he erased the board with his hand and thus began my first communication class. Our professor began teaching right away, making wild hand gestures and writing small snippets of words on the board. I was trying to keep up when I heard him say, “What people don’t understand is that trans people do exist. They exist because they say they exist, and who are we as communicators to tell them they aren’t who they are?” I couldn’t help but let a snicker out. Of course, trans people exist, I’m sitting right here! For many other reasons, but especially that one, he became my favorite professor. I remember leaving class that day feeling elated. It was as if I had been seen for the first time. I thought, if everyone could listen to my professor, there wouldn’t be as much hate or judgment coming from people who don’t “get it”. But he understood, and I knew deep inside I could make others understand me too.

As much as I would love for everyone to take his words to heart, to soak in the compassion that it takes to validate someone else’s gender identity, there are still those who do not. Maybe they are scared of what they don’t understand. Please, allow me to flick the age-old lamp on what people don’t understand about the transgender experience. Not just from me, but from other transgender people in our local community. We all have a voice. Now it is time to listen:

What people don’t understand is that we aren’t trying to change ourselves as a whole being, we are just trying to make ourselves more comfortable as who we are. People don’t understand that we are born this way and that it’s not something we choose. We’re not special, we just have an imbalance that we correct with medicine, just the same as you would take medication for depression. We’re tweaking something in our body to make us feel better. A lot of people look at us like we are some rare, exotic creature but we are just people.

Kody C., transman (he/him)

            “What do people not know about the nonbinary experience? Being nonbinary can be difficult and confusing. For so much of your life, you have no idea where your identity lies within yourself. Growing up in a very conservative and religious family made it very hard for me to accept myself for the longest time. I would drift between wishing to present as feminine and other times playing with more masculine styles, such as tucking my hair into a hat and wearing baggy clothes, wishing to appear androgynous as young as 12. I grew up playing with toys labeled as “for boys” while wearing clothing labeled “for girls”. I would often curse myself for having hit puberty earlier than others, as other females at school rejected me because of it, and it made me feel dysphoric towards my own features and feminine problems as I had no one else to relate to the issue at the time. For the longest time, I hadn’t felt like a female, so I would post photos presenting as a male on social media, trying to find some comfort in my appearance and the way I felt. But I didn’t feel quite masculine either.

At home, I was always told that being gay was a sin. That rejecting the body that God gave to you was also a sin. These ideas were hammered into my skull. And for a while, I was even slightly homophobic because of this, and because it was a “sin” I hated my own urges or attraction towards the same sex and urges to appear masculine. When my own boyfriend told me that he wanted to dress in feminine clothes to feel more comfortable in his own skin, I rejected it at first, perhaps projecting my own feelings of disgust at myself towards him. I feel bad about it now, and it makes me realize the profuse effect that religious and traditional values can have on you as a child. These ideas are ingrained into you at a young age, and people grow up shaking their heads in disgust at humans who are just trying to well, be comfortable in their own skin. The clothes you wear, your hairstyle, whether you wear makeup or not, transitional surgeries, hormone therapies, etc. will never affect these people’s lives, but they still choose to be bothered by it.

After some self-searching, I have found myself to be comfortable in a suit of “neither gender”. Neither female nor male. I enjoy dressing femininely, but I also enjoy the appearance of androgyny. Is it easy? No, I get odd looks for my dress and appearance, and when I talk about being nonbinary. People tell me, “But you dress like a girl” at times, and yes, I do enjoy feminine dress but I’m tired of the stigmatism behind masculinity and femininity, even within the LGBTQ+ community itself. Someone can be a transman and dress in feminine clothes but still identify as a man. Ciswomen can dress masculinely and still be cis. Us nonbinary folk don’t have to appear androgynous and be limited to boring baggy clothing to be nonbinary. I enjoy being relieved of the labels that come with being a “man” or “woman” and I only want one thing: to be me.”

 Siera Z., nonbinary (she/they)

            “A thing that people don’t understand about the transgender experience is that, at least in my experience, is people think we just wake up one day and like a light bulb went off, know we are trans. Instead, it’s more like a collection of experiences throughout a lifetime that points you to who you really are. It’s like puzzle pieces that lead to a beautiful realization in the end that maybe, I’d be happier this way. I think a lot of people who belong in the LGBT community don’t have an epiphany overnight. But it’s really this process that happens over time. We have spent months, even years, thinking about this process and its end result.”

Leon B., transman (he/him)

Identifying as anything other than cisgender, or someone who agrees their gender identity with their sex at birth, is challenging. People often tell me I am going down a road that is nothing but hard as if my life were a video game and I somehow got to choose before birth the difficulty rating I wanted my life to be. While being transgender can be one of the most challenging life-long events one can go through, it doesn’t have to be. My fellow friends and family, we do not have to make the LGBTQ community suffer any longer. We can educate each other. We can provide warm homes for the homeless LGBTQ people who got kicked out and rejected by their families or spouse. We can donate to organizations or local pride centers food, clothes, money, or services that can better the quality of their lives. Or we can even reach out to someone who is a part of the LGBTQ community who we know and give them our love. We can be allies, educators, contributors, family, friends, and lovers. My fellow trans friends and I may be good at hiding, but we are still here. We are who we have always seen ourselves as: Proud.