What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I only saw my endocrinologist once. I went for a prescription for testosterone, to generate changes that would mean I look and sound more male, essentially inducing a "second" puberty, the one I would have gone through if I was born male. I went for a prescription because that’s what trans guys want, that’s what they do when they come out. It’s all part of the classic trans narrative. After changing pronouns and changing your name, next comes hormones followed by surgery, followed by your happily ever after.
Unfortunately that is the only way to have your happily ever after.
The first time I blogged about hair, it was two years ago. It was before I had really examined the classic trans narrative. It was at a juvenile time when I used terms like "pre-everything" to mean I was pre-operative, pre-testosterone, and somehow less of a trans person without these things.
I expected the doctor to look at my face a lot. There I was asking for hormones — side effects include beard, and I already had one. He looked at my face a lot. He asked me the standard trans-related questions, the ones that get you through the doors of Gender Identity Clinics (GIC) and onto the next stage, getting closer to becoming a real life trans person. Trans validity is measured by how much you want it, and at that time, this meant changing your name legally.
He asked me if I had changed my name via deed poll, an essential enquiry with any trans patient. I replied, “No, I’m keeping it. It’s a unisex Arabic name.” This didn’t sit well with him. He told me that he had met a few people called Sabah before, but they were all women. And then, suddenly, I felt so embarrassed. I thought to myself, “He’s right.” I thought to myself, “I’ve never met a man called Sabah before either.” I thought to myself, “I was born with it, it must be a girl’s name. He’s right.”
After another awkward exchange around body hair, facial hair and polycystic ovary syndrome, I left.
And then, suddenly, I felt so angry.
Not only had the experiences of South Asian names/people by this white doctor trumped my own experiences of South Asian names/people by me, a South Asian person, but it had actually led me to doubt my own experiences, too. Doubt my own experience of existing as someone who is not a girl with the name Sabah. I doubted my own experience of existing as a brown person.
What would he have to say if I responded, “I’ve only met women called Alex so it must be a woman’s name, right?” It’s popular for trans people to chose gender neutral names. It isn’t anything out of the ordinary, and I’ve never heard of any opposition from GIC doctors about names before. The names that those trans people chose were "trans enough."
Why isn’t my name trans enough? Why aren’t I trans enough?
The criteria for being "trans enough" has been written by white people, for white people. It doesn’t take into account ethnic names, experiences of people of color, or how gender itself is experienced in other cultures. So, unsurprisingly, these criteria would come down harder on people of color, to invalidate our experiences, our roots, our names, and ultimately our identities. And I have to justify my ethnic name to a white person. This isn’t the first time people of color have had to justify a right to their identity to white people. This definitely isn’t the only time people of color have felt the need to conform to what white people dictate gender, masculinity and femininity to be, either.
Honestly, I actually really struggle with people calling me a man. I have never called myself that, nor do I want to. It doesn’t fit me. And it’s not meant to. The definition of a man is smothered with white masculinity. It’s the only form of masculinity that’s valued, it’s only white men who are worth something. Man doesn’t fit me, it suffocates me.
I see white men embracing these markers of maleness and masculinity. I see conversation with trans men repeatedly tumbling into hair, beards, and grooming. White men and their beards are a fashion trend, it’s trendy to be hairy and, more importantly, it is desirable. But you don’t hear those alarms go off. Like when you see a brown man and his beard. When you see him, you scream.
White men embrace their hair with ignorance. They don’t think about hair on non-white bodies. They fear the thought of hair on non-white bodies. Hair on non-white bodies is the feature of negative stereotyping — hair on brown bodies, brown women and brown men. Hairy brown women are undesirable to the point they are fetishised. Hairy brown men are undesirable to the point where they are demonised.
Where does that leave me? I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that I am becoming someone who is feared. I am embodying the brown man. I am embodying the Muslim terrorist. But how do you overcome something like that? Slowly, I guess.
I always counted myself lucky as a trans-masculine/male-passing person, as trans men in the trans community have the benefit of invisibility. A lot of this is due to the wonders of testosterone or T. T is a wonder drug. It’s not just luck, it’s male privilege. But this "invisibili-T cloak" only works for white trans men. I have come to realise that I will always be visible as a person of color; this, T cannot hide. There will always be visibility as a trans person of color. No one tells you this. No one tells you the gender you want to fit into isn’t made for people of color, like you. Like me. There is a fundamental difference in the social transition as a trans person of color, because I am transitioning from a brown woman to a brown man. That colored marker never changes. And no one tells you that either.
My gender has never been seen as separate from my race. I don't know if that is a privilege or a hindrance. I don't know if that is satisfying or heartbreaking. Gender is a social construct, but a racialised construct at that. We are brown men, brown women, and brown people. Our brown masculinity is feared, something to stay away from. It is terrorism. Our brown femininity is shameful, something to never associate with. It is oppressive.
I think about what this means for my trans identity. I think about "passing," going unnoticed as a trans person, "passing" as someone who is born the gender they are, and fooling the public. As if we are deceitful. Hiding my trans identity is not something I wish for. Feeling like I am lying to the world is not something I wish for. I do not not wish to pass.
I don’t pass all the time, but when I do, I can’t help but wonder, are people scared? Are they scared of the brown man walking towards them? Are they frightened of the Muslim man who just got on the bus? I don’t know what hurts more, visibility as a Muslim man, representing the terrorist and then being feared, or being invisible, misgendered and called a woman — and then being fetishised.
I don’t pass all the time. Most of the time my queerness and my trans identity is as visible as my skin colour. When I’m lucky enough to be in a space that values trans people, where I can be out, loud, and proud, I can’t help but wonder what this kind of visibility means. I can’t help but wonder if I become something desirable, something exotic. I’m safe, but different enough to feel exciting. I’m not like other men. I’m not like other people of color. I’m not like other Muslims.
I can’t help but wonder: if brown men weren’t so feared, then maybe people wouldn’t watch me the way they do, maybe they wouldn’t objectify me the way they do, maybe they wouldn’t exoticise me the way they do.
I can’t help but wonder if brown men weren’t so feared then maybe I’d feel less fearful of myself.
I can’t help but wonder.