Trans* Awareness Month: My Journey to Living Authentically

The following guest post comes to us via Kelley Dupps, public policy manager for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

November is Trans* Awareness Month — an awareness focused on the lives and experiences of those who identify as trans* (the T in LGBTQ) or queer or questioning (the Q).

It’s important to point out the dubious character of the word “queer.” While used as an epithet to shame LGBTQ people, the word has been reclaimed by many members of the community as reflective of their identity. Remember, Facebook allows more than 50 ways to identify one’s identity and orientation; and for many, “queer” is seen as less restrictive than many of the other letters in the LGBTQ alphabet soup.

When we love someone, gender doesn’t matter.

Planned Parenthood historically has been there for the LGBTQ community — from supporting the early liberation movement to compassionately working with HIV/AIDS patients, to today addressing the issues continually chipping away at equality for all. Planned Parenthood continues to stand with the LGBTQ community in calling for continued equality in all aspects.

Planned Parenthood has always believed in one’s autonomy over one’s own body, identity, and decisions — and that is no different when it comes to supporting and fighting for trans equality. But what are we talking about when we say “trans*”? Identifying as transgender means that one’s own gender identity is different than the gender assigned at birth. The term “trans*” serves as an umbrella for other transgender identities, such as genderqueer and gender fluid to name a couple of examples. Many folks know of Caitlyn Jenner’s decision to come out and live her life authentically. She was honest that she could no longer fake it through life — the toll was too much on her soul. It was a sentiment that I could identify with.

Gender is a cunning beast. For those who are cisgender, who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth, growing into one’s gender identity can be a smooth process. For those who identify as anything other than male or female, the journey to living authentically can be complicated by our families, our jobs, and the world at large. The journey is ultimately complicated by those who go through this world identifying as trans*.

As a kid, I was often scolded regarding my crass language or sitting manners: “That’s not very ladylike!” was a phrase I often heard. I hated dresses and lace; all I wanted to wear were my green jeans and my plaid shirt (don’t judge — it was the ’70s). I was often mistaken for a boy in public due to my short hair and androgynous style, and am still misgendered daily.

I grew up at a time when liberation was on the minds of many. The ’70s were a period of liberation: women (National Organization for Women), gays (Gay Liberation Front), black people (Black Panthers), and Chicanos (United Farm Workers) — just to name a few. Later on, seeing women like Madonna, Gloria Steinem, and Geraldine Ferraro, the message was clear: If you were a girl, you could do anything you want; you just had to be pretty and do it in a dress (or less). You needed to look like a lady, and that was something I knew I wasn’t good at.

As a testament to how old I am, I came out before Ellen! In college, I came out as gay — not lesbian — because I did not identify as a woman. That was a hard concept and feeling to wrap my own brain around. So I didn’t. For many years, I self-medicated and properly medicated via pharmaceuticals. I suffered from migraines and other internalized pain, never realizing it was connected to my nagging identity crisis, and ignoring it wasn’t making it go away.

In graduate school, I realized that in order to survive I needed to address the truth of my soul. I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria and spent a decade not knowing what to do with that knowledge. I was terrified that people would find out and think I was a freak. I was paralyzed with fear thinking of what would happen if my friends and family found out. The Gay Thing had been hard enough, but now it’s a Trans Thing?

Some transgender folks are on a journey to completely change their gender — and there are folks like me who fall comfortably-ish somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum. For years I had worked hard to create spaces for myself whenever possible. I would use humor and authenticity as a way of getting folks to like me (and hopefully like me in spite of my queerness). I often acknowledged being the only queer in the room in a humorous way to allow others to feel comfortable. It wouldn’t be until years later that I would realize my queerness was an asset and that folks liked me in part because of my queerness.

I worked hard to always make others comfortable. Sometimes that was difficult. Going to the doctor and having them refuse to touch you during an examination. Using a public restroom when women scream and call security and men become violent. Comfort was at times elusive and equality seemed like a cruel dream.

Failure is hard to take, and I knew from a very early age that I failed at being a girl. I fell short at being a daughter. I didn’t measure up as a sister. At the end of the day, these were internal feelings I needed to resolve — that was on me. In reality, I was a pretty good kid and dedicated sibling. I realized I was a great friend and an amazing partner. I was the one who needed to be comfortable with myself all along. I’m lucky. I came out to my friends and family as a trans person less than a year ago. As confusing as gender can be, when we love someone, gender doesn’t matter. My family loves and accepts me for who I am because love is love and family is family. Like love, family has no gender.

Identifying as genderqueer or gender nonconforming can cause some confusion, like using gender-neutral pronouns like they/them or honorifics like Mx. Using these terms regularly allows it to be commonplace for folks like me to be acknowledged and accepted.

Explaining my genderqueerness to my inquisitive 5-year-old nephew was surprisingly simple. While “Aunt Kelley” was my title, my nephew would organically use male pronouns. My short hair had been a point of confusion for him. “Is Aunt Kelley a boy or a girl?” he would ask my wife. We explained to him that I’m part girl, part boy. “Like CatDog?” he asked. Exactly like CatDog. Made perfect sense to his 5-year-old sensibilities, and solidified for all the adults in his life that it’s really not that big of a deal. If only it could be that simple for all adults to understand.

I can legally be fired in Arizona for my sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. After all, I am married to a woman, identify as a trans person, and I wear a bow-tie to work every day. After coming out as queer at work (in a directors meeting, mind you), I felt a wave of terror and panic I hadn’t felt in decades. What had I done? Before I could really process what had happened, I had several staff members hug me and tell me how proud they were of me. I felt a tremendous amount of support and love. My colleagues work to use gender-neutral pronouns and acknowledge folks like me in their work.

I am lucky because I work at Planned Parenthood Arizona, where all people are valued for who they are and what they bring to the table. My confidence is due in part to Planned Parenthood acknowledging not only who I am, but what I bring as an organizer, as an advocate, as a whole person. I am proud to stand with Planned Parenthood because Planned Parenthood stands with me.

Note: While Urban Dictionary is not a traditional source, it serves as mainstream source of legitimate language in the modern world.

4 thoughts on “Trans* Awareness Month: My Journey to Living Authentically

  1. Kelley,
    PPAZ is lucky to have you. Real people are the most awesome–you’re awesome.

  2. Kelley: This was so wonderful to read about your LIFE! I had never known your story, and I think this so helps us get to know you as a PERSON! Thank you for sharing, and I’m with you 100%. (also with Planned Parenthood, both verbally at every opportunity, financially, and out there with our signs on the capitol lawn!) Hugs to you and Meg.

    • thank you donna! and thank you for your years of supporting kids like me! xo (meg sends her love)

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