Our wonderful consultant, Nathan, has been kind enough to write a post concerning trans identities in Writing Centers, the self-discovery that is possible within queer spaces, along with the struggle to claim one’s identity in those same spaces that are increasingly closed off. His account of his own experience perfectly relates to our topic for this week’s Difficult Conversations event: Gatekeeping and Cancel Culture.
I couldn’t help but feel a sense of embarrassment when I began writing this post, because of course the trans writing consultant is writing a blog post about being trans in the writing center. I often feel that my queerness is at odds with other things: that if I’m not actively talking about it, my goal should be for it to not exist. I’ve read countless pieces of scholarship that say exactly the contrary. In his book Facing the Center, Harry Denny says that “the identities at the center signify just as richly as those at the margin.” In other words, my queerness isn’t something that I turn off when I walk into the writing center. It’s not only there when I talk about it: it’s constant, a lens through which I see the world. I know this. I’ve studied it, written about it, and yet that same old shame still creeps up every time my queerness comes up in conversation.
I’ve found the “us vs. them” mind frame to be increasingly common. I’ve joked before about becoming tired of explaining myself to cisgender people, but at the end of the day, I’ve actually received equal amounts of hostility (if not more) from within the LGBTQ+ community. I understand that this has a lot to do with the environment that I’m in—I go to school and work in the School of Liberal Arts, after all. But that being said, I’ve found that the LGBTQ+ spaces I inhabit are increasingly filled with debates about the “right” words to use for things and what makes one person’s identity more valid than another person’s. This constant fighting within the community is something that is completely invisible to most of my cisgender friends, but is a constant weight that I carry. It furthers the sense of division I feel between my “regular life” and my “queer life,” and associates my queerness with fear, pain, and a constant need to prove my place in the community. It asks me to either center or de-center my queerness without allowing me to just be.
I’ve known that I was not cisgender from the time I was fifteen, but I didn’t actually use the word “transgender” as a self-descriptor until last semester. I always worried that my dysphoria wasn’t serious enough, or that I wasn’t masculine enough to warrant changing my name and pronouns. If I were trans, I’d surely know it, I said to the mirror every morning. One day, I was chatting with the director of the writing center, and she referred to me as a trans person. “I’ve never thought of myself as a trans person,” I said. She looked confused. “You use they/ them pronouns, and are adamant about not being a woman,” she said. “Do you think that’s enough to make me transgender?” I asked. She looked confused. “Well, yeah,” she said.
Three weeks later, I was out as a transgender man.
Looking back now, I realize that I had every right to the word “transgender” even before I changed my name and started using he / him pronouns, and I wonder how much happier I could have been if I had come to terms with this sooner. I know that the trans community isn’t the only one that perpetuates these sorts of gatekeeping tendencies: I’ve heard from friends that working moms and stay-at-home moms constantly police each others’ legitimacy as “good mothers,” and I’m sure that other marginalized groups treat each other with similar hostility.
I am grateful to work in a place that frequently takes on difficult conversations like this one—a place with people who I could come out to before I was even out to myself. Today, at 1pm in our Cavanaugh location, we are discussing gatekeeping and cancel culture as part of our Difficult Conversations series. We hope to see you there!