Tuesday, January 22, 2019

"Yes, You Are Trans Enough' By Mia Violet is a vital and needed book.

I'm not sure who made the recommendation, but thanks to the twitter, I bought (and then devoured), Mia Violet's memoir/trans-affirmation story "Yes, You Are Trans Enough" (Jessica Kingsley Publishers). This is a vital and essential text for trans-individuals. My hunch is that it will be particularly helpful to trans women like myself because it is so personally written about the experience of growing up and transitioning in adulthood, when so many possibilities still exist but the pain might be greater as well.

The book chronicles Mia's childhood, perceived and raised as a boy in the UK, in what sounds like a fairly blue-collar environment. Her childhood was marred by the teasing, harassment, and physicality of boys and her own unwavering sense of out-of-place-ness. It includes an aborted coming-out to her mother at 14, and finally, in her mid-twenties, unable to contain it any longer, a full coming out including social and medical transition. 

This book provides so much, on so many levels. First, it is important to have as many diverse trans narratives as possible. Even to this day, the media still has a tendency to highlight early child-hood transition or those children whose sense of being a trans person is clear to them at an early age. But that is far from the only narrative. Seeing the early childhood narrative predominate causes real harm to those trans individuals who didn't have that clarity in their toddler years and may who come to doubt that what they are feeling now (at whatever age), is truly a concrete sense of their gender because it arrived later than others'. 

I am one of those individuals who despite knowing that everything in my life was off, just not right, and that boys were a different species, way back in my elementary years, still had no sense that I was a girl like those young and certain trans children in the media stories. By high-school I was getting some glimmers of what my feelings meant, but that was in the 90s and transgender wasn't a term I had ever heard. It would never have occurred to me that someone could transition. If you had asked me, I still wouldn't have known I was a girl.

I was 21, in the early 2000s before I finally had that "ah ha!" moment and realized that I was a girl. And yet, even then, I found it hard to believe and accept in full, in large part because I STILL hadn't heard the word transgender, didn't know anyone like me, didn't hear any stories like mine, and knew nothing about transitioning.

Now, at 38, I am just taking my first steps towards transitioning, having spent the last decade coming to fully accept that I really am a trans girl (and not believing that I could ever transition until just last year). Experiences like those, filled with doubt, are just a small piece of what Mia Violet means when she says "Yes, You Are Trans Enough." This is the book that I wish I had had in middle-school (or earlier! - maybe a YA version!). 

I wonder, much as Mia does at times, what having more information, more diverse narratives, more representation, more health instruction, more visibility might have done to speed things up, to keep from losing time - my teens and 20s and 30s as a girl which I will never get back. (Time is a horrible horrible burden that so many trans people face when unfairly critiquing their lives before transition, getting stuck on what wasn't rather than on what will be in the future).

But Violet does more than just present an important counter-narrative to the childhood transition. She explores the vastly dehumanizing medical gatekeeping processes of the British health system. We see her astonishing sympathy for a family that does not readily accept her. She also exposes the horrendous depths of inner turmoil that many trans people face. And importantly, she talks about how she took control over her own life and mind to lead a life of affirmation. Certainly not all trans individuals will experience as much or the same types of dysphoria, anxiety, worry, and other emotions as Violet did, but I was astounded by how closely some of her terms and phrases and images replicated with my own thought patterns in similar circumstances.

Most recently, having just started my electrolysis, I was flooded with crushing emotions walking out of the office after the first full visit. I know I am a girl, I want to transition, I know that getting rid of my facial hair is incredibly important to me, so why then did this wonderful occasion spark such negative feelings, feelings of doubt, feelings of being a monster, feelings of worry about being victimized? Well, Mia felt many of those same feelings the night she got her first HRT pills in the mail. Reading that not only Mia, but many other trans people, often feel this incredibly complex and overwhelming flood of emotion right before or after critical steps in their process helped me to reevaluate my own feelings and come out the other side more quickly. I thank her so desperately for that.

From the childhood bullying, to feeling out of place around boys, to the goth/rocker persona, to the aborted coming out to a parent, to finally not being able to keep it in any more, Mia Violet's narrative felt similar to my own, giving me a mirror and a model where I had none before. Certainly this is but one of countless narratives, so your journey may be entirely different, but the underlying feelings, doubts, supports, and realizations are likely to resonate. 

Further, the structure of the book is well done with periodic breaks in the overarching chronological narrative that allow Violet to speak for a paragraph or two about some issue in general, provide background on various trans topics, or even ruminate on life lessons before returning to the story.  The writing is brisk and very readable, so combined with a critical narrative and important general information, it makes "Yes, You Are Trans Enough" a strong read.

Even for those readers who are not trans themselves, there is so much on offer here. This may be one of the closest those readers will come to living in a trans person's head without the unnecessary (and perhaps deceitful) drama of a TV production or movie. This is one real person's real life, told with introspection and humor but also episodes of darkness. But it never stoops to playing on the reader's emotions. She is simply sharing in the hopes others will benefit from her story. It is straightforward, insightful, revealing, hopeful, and affirming all at once. I am so very glad I read this, and only wish I had had it in my life much much sooner! Thank you Mia Violet for sharing your ongoing journey. This is one trans girl who is incredibly grateful to you and looks up to you with all her heart!


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