Just over a year ago, I met someone. Pros: vibrant personality, intelligent, witty, attractive. Cons: sketchy living situation, somewhat checkered past, ten and a half years my junior. Mom was going to have a field day with that last one. We talked online, texted for a couple days, met for coffee, kept texting, and things went from there.
And, he's transgender. He was assigned female at birth and is transitioning to male. He started hormone replacement therapy in February of 2013, and as of this writing has had no surgeries. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement. I didn't know what to expect, and to be honest, I had no clue about the vast majority of the "process" of transition. He was open about this fact from the onset, and was (mostly) patient with questions I asked, though he also coached me to do some research on my own. So I read, and I researched. Wikipedia articles, ftmguide.org, YouTube videos, you name it.
As we talked, it's important to keep in mind that our conversations did not solely revolve around his transition. Because, as it turns out, there is more to a transman than the process of bringing the body into alignment with the mind. A thing that often gets pushed aside in interviews, articles, movies, and stories, is the fact that transgender people are people. Much like one gay man or lesbian cannot speak on behalf of the entire community, because every individual has a different story, so, too, is this true for the trans community. This didn't come as a shock to me, exactly, but even as a (mostly) gay man, somehow it wasn't something I'd ever given much thought.
I point this out because I think it's something that most people don't give much thought, for good or ill. I point this out because, in our lack of thinking about it, we say or do things that are damaging, because the concept is so far outside of our experience that we lack the capacity for empathy. I am a man. Born male, identified as male, and I have never questioned my maleness, though I have frequently questioned my masculinity. In thinking about the transgender community, I had always considered it from a perspective of wondering what it would be like to feel like I should have been a woman. It wasn't until meeting him that I began to see that I was looking at the question all wrong. What if I, the person I am, the man I am, looked so much like a woman that I had to fight, every day, to prove that I really am a man? People turn their nose up at the word, "privilege," because we talk about it but do not understand what it really means to say we have it. But, what a privilege I have to not have anyone dispute my maleness, or to feel like I have to prove it every day.
To be fair, to the average person on the street, Aiden looks like a man who has always been a man. He is short and slight, but not abnormally so. His beard is every bit as thick as mine, and his style and mannerisms are such that, if you were to ask someone which of us was gay, they will inevitably point to me. There is nothing womanly about him. People are often genuinely shocked when it comes out that his identical twin sister really is identical. He "passes."
"So, wait," someone asks, "he hasn't had surgery? So, how does that work? What does he have, you know, down there?" What, indeed. People don't understand why this question is so invasive, and he is asked so often that he's started answering with things like, "oh, it's a robot." If you need to know all that badly, a quick Google Image search will give you more information than you need about the effects of testosterone on the body. Yes, he has what he was born with. Yes, hormones have changed things about it. No, really, just go do a Google search. I'll wait.
"So he's not really a man, yet, then?" Well, see, this is where the big problem is for a lot of people. We get so caught up in the idea that the parts make the person, that we invalidate someone's identity because of our concept of gender. Yes, it's a vagina. Yet I do not question his maleness because of it. He is a man, every inch, every fiber of his being, inside and out. No, he isn't comfortable with the fact that he still has it, but the surgery to correct that issue (and even then, there are variations and options as to what that could be) will cost at least $100,000. No, it's not always easy. Some days, dealing with the dysphoria is downright crippling. And on those days, I don't love him any less.
There will come a day, I hope, that insurance will be better, that medical science will be better, that societal acceptance will be better, and he will finally be able to undergo the changes to make his outside match the picture of himself in his head. Do not ever make the mistake of thinking, though, that he is less of a man because of the way he was born. Believe me. He, and every other transgender man I've met through him, are more man than most of us will ever be. We were simply given our maleness, no questions asked. They have to fight every day to prove theirs.