Disclaimer: I am but one humble trans woman and my experiences do not reflect or extend to every trans person’s experience. Everyone is different and wonderful in their own little way and have different struggles that they go through. This is just one of mine.
Six months ago, I came out as a transgender woman. I was elated: finally! I no longer had to live my life as a man. I can now wear what I want, be who I want, and be treated as the person I see inside of myself for the first time.
But being transgender is kinda hard.
Not everybody who identifies as transgender has this, but I suffer from this thing called gender dysphoria. It’s a disconnect between your mind and body — girl brain, boy body, or vice versa. Or somewhere in the middle. To describe how it feels is nearly impossible (I’ve tried a bunch). But imagine that you wake up one day and suddenly you’re in the body of a giant snail person. I dunno. Nobody wants to be a snail person. They’re slow. Oh, but when you tell them “No, no, I’m not snail person, I’m a human!” you get mean comments on the internet. If it sounds preposterous, that’s because it kind of is. But it’s real! Being in a male body to me is as foreign as being a snail person. And it’s really distressing.
Nowadays, I’m taking female hormones, dressing as a woman, and calling myself by a chosen, woman’s name. It’s nice. But like an evolving virus, dysphoria still rears its ugly head every now and again.
I was having a particularly bad few days a little while ago when I remembered that some of my most fulfilling, wonderful times before the transition were when I did drama in high school. I have such fond memories of planning shows, practicing lines, singing and dancing like there wasn’t a care in the world except for making the thing fun to watch. It’s where my mind lived. It’s one of the few spaces where I felt comfortable. The thought of being on stage in front of an audience and being looked at and judged is horrifying to most, but to me, it’s blissful. It’s a high. So, what better way to get my mind off of personal stresses than to commit myself to the insane asylum of theatre once more?
To my surprise, there was an audition that night. It was a small- town community theatre. We’re not talking Broadway here, we’re talking people who all have jobs and responsibilities by day and spend their evenings practicing for shows without getting paid. I walked in and found myself in immediate terror. What on Earth was I doing? I don’t “pass.” I don’t look or sound like a woman yet. I’d walked into a space that was going to ignite my dysphoria like a torch to a dry branch.
I auditioned anyway. It was one of those, “well I’m here and the awkwardness of walking out without saying anything overpowers my willingness to run away” kind of things. You know how it is. And guys, this is just a blog, not Backstage.com. I’ve never done an audition outside of high school and I had no idea how things worked. I didn’t really know how to feel towards the end, but I felt like I’d done a good enough job with each character I was given to read.
I found it interesting that I was given both male and female roles to audition for. I was happy about it if just a touch confused. Was everybody given both gender roles? Was that just a thing? Did my chosen name just confuse them and they didn’t know what to do with me?
At the end of my audition, I was asked if I could come back tomorrow. That’s a good sign, I’m guessing. So I went back the next day and I was given one or two more things to read. Both male. Agh. I was guessing at that point that my audition the previous day identified pretty clearly that my fears were true: I was pinged as a dude. And then the day of reckoning arrived and I had to face facts. I was called at work and told I’d received not one, but six different roles. “Holy sh*t!” I thought to myself. And then I saw it.
Yep, six male characters. That sucks.
But I decided to try and look at it in a positive light. This was an opportunity for me. I want to act, like, really bad. Am I going to turn this down because of dysphoria? And will I continue to turn down roles until I get one that validates me? I thought about that a lot. Dysphoria keeps me from doing a lot of things. I can’t go to any public bathroom that isn’t a “family” bathroom, I can’t go out in public if I haven’t shaved thoroughly, I can’t get “sir’d” by some innocent stranger who doesn’t know better without feeling gross about myself, etc. etc. It’s exhausting at best, and debilitating at worst. I’m still having to fight myself to like myself; fight against society’s expectations to be seen as I see myself. And here I was, once again. Dysphoria was going to stop me from doing something I wanted to do.
In times like these, I always try to appeal to logic. “Well… women get cast for men all the time in these kinds of things! You shouldn’t feel bad! It won’t be invalidating!” And while that helps calm my mind, it didn’t heal my feelings on the matter. Does that make sense?
I think the reason I felt this way was that word: validation. It’s something everyone needs, whether they want to admit it or not. Whether you’re trans, or cis, or whatever, we’re social creatures and most of us need some kind of validation from others about who we are. What we do. Etc. We’re always asking things like “Is this good?” “Am I weird for thinking this?” “Does everybody go through this?” Hell, relatability and validation are so damn important that it seems like half of all public discourse on the internet is about whether something is “valid” or not. That’s especially so in trans circles, who are constantly harassed by folks who want to be the exact opposite of validating.
On some level, I felt that if I took those roles, it would make me invalid. How can you be a trans woman, and accept a role made for a man? Let alone six?!
But I said yes anyway. And I’m OK with that.
For one thing, I didn’t go alone. My girlfriend went and auditioned, too, and also got parts. She’s extremely validating and wonderful to be around, so that definitely helps my mood going into rehearsals. That’s not to mention that my fellow cast members and members of the crew were actually validating me going into rehearsal for the first time. Someone bothered to ask for my pronouns, which was nice. Even the costume designer whose job was to put me in masculine costumes was validating me by gendering me correctly throughout.
I asked myself, why do I have this insistent need to be validated? I finally just figured, it must be me being insecure – which is normal. I mean, I’m still relatively new in my transition. But if I’m going to move on with my life and be who I want to be, I can’t be waiting for the stars to align. I can’t sit and hide until I 100%-and-completely pass as a woman. I have interests outside of transitioning and living in a cocoon until I’m “done” is no better than living before I came out. So, yeah, it sucks that I got cast as a man, but that doesn’t make me a man, or “invalid,” or anything. It just means I’m working on something I care about and living life.
And that’s OK.
by Evelyn Riales