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There is a phenomenon in trans culture that I’ve been aware of ever since I started watching transitioning videos on Youtube in my mid-teens (not so long ago, but it feels like an age – it feels like the glaciers have moved half a continent since then). Those were and are the videos where guys would talk about their transition, their daily lives, their various extremely relatable anxieties and concerns and thinkings; they were people just like me, kids in their teens or early twenties self-therapizing on the internet, where we all found each other and supported each other in small awkward teenage ways – follow their channel, like the videos, leave some nice comments. I put up a few videos myself, too. People told me they loved the way I thought about things, the way my hair looked, whatever it was. *It’s amazing how your voice got so much deeper! *I haven’t touched that Youtube channel in a long time. I needed it for a little bit; I needed to talk to someone that wasn’t my therapist or my parents – and I knew that someone, or multiple someones, were out there. Beyond a doubt, they had to be; and they were.
I gravitated, like people do, to the guys who were most like me. I found one guy’s channel, the closest Youtube had to offer to myself: he was white, French Canadian, anxious, smart, got angry about things, and knew what he was talking about. I was in awe of his top surgery results and his beard and I wanted very much to be where he was in his transition. I envied him terribly, and I relied on his videos to give me good information and to reinforce my understanding that we all suffer in some way but it’s not insurmountable. There are steps to take and ways of looking at things that make it bearable – it’s not all as horrible as it seems, although sometimes it is, and it’s good to know that part of it, too. This is what the trans community on Youtube, the scattered, awkward, endless one with its scores and scores of awesome kids using bad webcams was and still is for – to teach you all these things, by teaching each other. It’s learning from everyone’s experience, from the people who are really living it, in real time. It’s the best resource, in my opinion, that exists for trans kids, of whatever gender. You can listen to white French Canadians in English or French, you can listen to Latinos and Latinas and Latinx in Spanish; you can find trans girls from Australia, non-binary kids from the States – no one’s hiring these people, no one’s even paying them (but they should). You upload your videos and the community forms around you. It’s invaluable.
But you are also putting yourself out there and potentially sacrificing your anonymity, or even your safety, as is true whenever you speak out. Community, not to mention advocacy, is never without risk. You don’t see any transitioning vlogs from kids in China or Saudi Arabia, from Uganda or Russia, and nobody has to explain why. The state of trans people and our rights and freedoms and our basic ability to freely exist reveals itself in sharp relief through things like this. There’s a boy from North Carolina who has to pretend he’s all right with being a girl because his parents would hurt him if he didn’t. There’s a guy the same age as me in the UK living in his friend’s attic because otherwise he would be homeless. But there is no guy speaking into his webcam from these other places. He is not allowed to exist, and he knows it, and we know it. What do we do? I don’t really have the answer, but the best way I can think of is to just keep going. And I think, as long as trans kids and the internet exists, we will. We’re really good at it, you know.
What this unrecognized and criminally undervalued community gave me was the ability to recognize myself in other people. It was around the time I started watching these videos that I finally admitted to myself I was definitely, beyond any doubt whatsoever, very trans, very much a boy, and very ready to start. I was 15 when I told my mom I could no longer stand living “as” a girl (or my poor approximation of one, anyway). I have Youtube almost entirely to thank for that – I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to move forward otherwise.
That was the first step, the huge one that got everything else in my life moving. It was like waking up from a terrible dream, or being freed from an awful, pressing, airless cell; but it wasn’t the end, there were more things I needed to discover. This process has been slow and it’s still ongoing. I’m 19 (somehow, already) and I’m only just starting to come to terms with other aspects of myself that for a very long time indeed I kept buried. I thought that being trans was the only thing I really needed to unearth – I didn’t think there would *be *anything else down there, surely there wasn’t nearly the space – but it turns out I had no idea how truly vast my inner chasm of hidden things is, how many things I have tucked away down there. (I think 15 years of repression only makes it deeper still).
I remember watching those Youtube videos by trans guys and noting with dismay how some of them seemed so* feminine. *I remember actually being annoyed. I thought something like, “People aren’t going to believe you, or any of us, if you still act like girls! We’re *boys *and they have to see that!” This was before I knew what non-binary was, and while I was still desperately masculinizing everything about myself in order to make it all the more impossible for people to not believe me (which happens regardless of how you dress and act, but the 15 year old me didn’t want to think about that). I still loved my angry French Canadian Youtuber to bits but I was annoyed by his femininity. I wished he would act more masculine. At the same time, I never watched videos by Youtubers who struck me as masculine, who were straight, who I deemed typically male; those didn’t interest me. The trans men I wanted to listen to were flamboyant, queer, gay or bi or pan. Like usual, I was doing mental gymnastics through yet more repression: I was *seeking out* videos by feminine trans men and then being annoyed that all the trans men I was watching were feminine. I can’t even get my head around myself having been so fantastically stupid, but I really was.
It did not occur to me until embarrassingly recently that I was watching these people because I was these people. I thought I liked them because of anything else: they were smart, funny, as anxious or more anxious as me (and all of these things were also true), but I didn’t realize their femininity was another reason I liked them, another way I could identify with them. In my day to day life, since I was two years old, I’ve been pushing down any semblance of femininity in myself, and I know it’s because Ive always needed everyone to see that I’m not a girl. Whatever I am, it’s not a girl; that was as far as my brain, through its grimy wall of repression, could allow me to go throughout my childhood and early teens. At 15 I finally understood I was transgender; at 19 I know that I’m gay, and feminine. Took long enough.
Not just a “little” gay. Fully, stereotypically, gay. *Maybe I’m not, *I was thinking up until not too long ago at all, *maybe I’m just really confused. *What a thing to say to myself, an out trans person 4 years on testosterone. It’s like I became a North Carolina Republican for a while; maybe I was being briefly possessed by Southern Baptists. Whatever got into me, it passed; as my transition continued, bringing with it a sad mustache, weird unpleasant stomach hair, and a relieving resurgence in a sex drive that had been dead since they put me on hormone blockers at 15 (well into puberty), the golden heel with rainbow laces that I imagine as representative of my sexuality started to slowly emerge from the soil it had previously been buried by, inch by shining inch. Finally I reached the top of the knoll upon which it shines; I knelt down, ripping off my straight-boy running shoes, and took it in my hands to hold it against my breast. *We got here, finally, *I whisper, crying in my socks.
I am not a confident person, in most things. I don’t plan to do too much with this golden heel of mine, at least not yet. I will put it somewhere I won’t be able to ignore it, and when the time is right I’ll don it. I’ll kick a Republican in the nose with it and stroll off to Pride, and that’ll be that, case closed for ever and always.
Youtube, that amorphous trans community with its plethora of brave, wonderful kids, got me to where I am. There’s no one person to thank, so I’ll thank all of you who ever turned on your webcam and decided to upload something. We like to think strength comes from within, and it certainly does a lot of the time, but it’s the support of friends and peers and overanxious 14-year-olds half a world away that really builds the foundations and keeps them there solid and unmoving whenever you’re up there wobbling, in your running shoes or your 4-inch heels. Our lived experience is invaluable. All the medical texts in the world don’t match it. It is infinitely more powerful – to me, maybe not to everyone – to hear that trans guy with the pink hair and earrings and tank top discuss relationships than it is to hear my 7th grade sex ed. teacher have a go at it. We need each other for this stuff.
I would not be here otherwise, I don’t think. At the very least I would not be here in these massive golden heels looking very awesome.