The Transgender Problem: Barriers, buffets and bull
Explaining what being trans is like to cis people is no easy task. Let's try a food metaphor.
Explaining being trans to cis people isn't easy. Some of them get Very Angry™, some imagine you're making it up, others think you're brainwashed, and very few get it the first time around.
The problem lives in access to language and I aim to give you a buffet in food metaphors. Please note this is simplistic and only meant as a tool for learning.
Read with an open mind and maybe a hungry belly.
Imagine that you're very hungry
Now imagine that—suddenly—the only thing you're allowed to eat is food you're allergic to
Kids don't know what things are unless they're taught. As you grow, many people teach many things with many words. Sometimes, society teaches you. Sometimes, television, teachers or parents. In any case, you aren't born knowing everything, not even what is edible.
Sitting at a table, you're quite young and very hungry. Suddenly, someone you love shows up and slides a plate in front of you. Happy, you place yellow food in your mouth, but when you taste it, your face falls.
"What's this?" you ask, chewing acridly.
"It's corn," they reply with a smile. "Corn is for You."
It's corn. Corn, a word that means nothing but tastes odd. Try as you might to eat it, you soon get a stomach ache and your face feels hot.
You want to ask for something else, but your loved one already has more plates. They give you corn soup, which they name. They provide cornbread, which they also name. They douse you in popcorn.
You're drowning in corn.
Green-faced, you patter to the bathroom. After time spent heaving, you step on a stool to wash your face and hands with soap. Suddenly, your face is hot.
The soap had corn in it. Rather, a corn product (but you don't know this) and now you're itchy. You flail out of your clothes, flop into the bathtub, turn the water on and soak. You reach or a bar of soap, but you stop.
You have no idea if the soap is safe. It gets worse, of course.
Dry, clothed and hungry, you hear the ding of an ice cream truck. You decide to scamper outside to get food. You're big now. You can do it!
With pocket change in tow, the ice cream truck rounds. You're saved! Kids swarm and file into two lines. At the front, you ask for something without corn. The ice cream man scrutinizes you, then gives you a corn-flavored creamsicle pop.
Staring at this odd yellow food, you then look at the other kids. They instinctively line up, get exactly either Corn or Chocolate ice cream and frolic away. Famished, you drop the corn-pop, fling yourself into the line without corn and scramble to the front.
The ice cream man turns to greet you, then pauses.
Money in your outstretched hand, he doesn't give you the chocolate popsicle melting down his wrist. The other children stare at you. Their eyes on the back of your neck make your heart feel like bees. Did you do something wrong?
A blimp overhead passes, blasting out the phrase "Corn is for You" with a flickering image on its side. That image shows someone who looks like you. They're eagerly demolishing a cob of corn with a demented look on their face.
Frantic, confused and starving, you blurt out: "Please, just gimme' the chocolate!" The ice cream guy doesn't and you're left stranded as he drives away.
Every single day of your life, you are now forced to eat corn.
You must now wear clothes made with corn products. You must now wash with soap that has corn ingredients in it. Everyone who looks like you is for corn. It's time now. There is only corn. Corn is for you.
You are malnourished and living in a world that seems hellbent on forcing you to ingest something you're allergic to and do not like.
Worse than that, when you get older, you realize the whole world built around the immutable law of life: corn and chocolate. You can only have one, it's chosen for you and it impacts everything. What job you have, what you can eat, what you can wear, where you can go, what you can do, how you can love, what words you can use to talk about yourself. Everything.
You are a corn-haver. You were born for corn. There is only corn. Corn.
You're allergic to corn.
At some point, you get the bright idea to break the buffet binary
You eat the goddamn chocolate!
You swaddle your painful body in a tarp and set out on a mission. You find a quaint café for chocolate-havers and shuffle inside. Beyond a brilliant display case rests gorgeous, decadent sweets. Salty, berry-tart, sumptuous and divine, this is impeccable food and you will savor every single bite like your life depends on it—because it does!
Terrified but brave, you point a shaky hand at a chocolatey treat. The cashier assumes you're not corn-fed and bags treats for you. You pay, sidle into a little booth and stuff your gob.
It's so delicious that it's almost painful.
In fact, it's the opposite. A rush of wholeness startles you and then you take another bite. Pure, joyous, contentment fills your body. There is no pain in this meal. Tears slide down your face. You can't remember a meal without agony.
You are finally sated after a life lived starving and it was so easy.
Hot cocoa and existential crises in the morning
What if you could eat anything you like?
Traumatized by being corn-annihilated for years, you decide you're never going back. But there's a problem: the whole world is built on a corn and chocolate. There are rules that corn-havers and chocolatiers must follow. Social expectations revolve around corn and chocolate. This is the immutable law of life.
You're born for corn, so said everything, and that's all you're meant to eat.
Sipping hot chocolate in the safety of your home, you wonder on the ease of chocolate-eating and the immutable law of life.
Could the corn/chocolate system be...bullshit?
Armed with a laptop, will and a treat, you search through the largest library ever invented: the internet. Based on research, it seems there were other societies in the world that didn't just have corn/chocolate, but chococorn.
This stuns you to the point of speechlessness. How is that possible?
According to history, long before you were born, there existed different systems. Sometimes people who ate the "opposite" were spiritual leaders. Sometimes there were different foodstuff sorts, like apple-beings, quiche-havers, lemon-lovers and pickle-people. Some people ate everything and not as ingredients. They just did.
Sadly, people throughout history showed up and changed things. They'd stake their claim somewhere somebody already lived, then shove the corn/chocolate rubric there. These invading people made the immutable law of life around all that. Entire civilizations built around Corn and Chocolate.
You can eat whatever food you want. You've been lied to.
You are no longer a chocolate oddball
You've been labeled a food-terrorist
With this new discovery, you change your life in small or big ways. You might dress like a chocolatier. You might go full-chocolate. Maybe you decide bananas are where it's at. Maybe you eat everything. Maybe you pick sweet kettle popcorn with chocolate drizzle and it's brilliant.
Whatever the case, you're feeling great. You're yourself and you know nothing real can stop you from eating what you want. Morsel-mixers like you are more accepted by society these days. That's lovely.
Yet, with acceptance comes food-purists who've built their lives around the corn/chocolate split. They grow in number. People who cannot fathom you'd want to eat Chocolate, let alone be capable of ingesting it.
These food-purists do not go against the corn/chocolate system and demand everyone fall in line, because that's reality. That's fact. That's the immutable law of life. It's just science. They're convinced.
Minding your business, tonguing a spatula of glorious dark chocolate batter, you hear a notification from your computer. A food-purist is very angry because reasons. In fact, thousands are on the warpath. Against you, against others like you, against a government that was too "too lax on the morsel-mixers."
Suddenly, your peers are responsible for everything evil. Suddenly, people like you are accused of indoctrinating children into chococornism, or heaven forbid, the sin of cheese. Suddenly, you're destroying the economy, ruining society and all you've done is do what makes you happy!
You—minding your business, being unallergic and not bothering a single other person—have been branded. You're a Food Terrorist.
More horrifying news flits by your screen and you blanch: the government has decided to listen to the food-purists.
It is illegal to live your best chocolate-life, as a corn-haver. It's illegal to eat anything other than the designated corn/chocolate. No corncolate. No chococorn. No cheese-ish. Not even a goddamn apple by itself.
There is only corn or only chocolate and you were Made For Corn and that's it.
Heaven help anyone who offers safety to morsel-mixers, because they're now branded terrorists too. You've been made illegal in several states. You are a threat worthy of erasing, maybe even jailing. Maybe a threat worth killing.
You hold up your spatula and think about going back to corn. You were sick, sad, confused and maybe you even wished for death. Maybe you attempted it.
You lick your spatula. Going back to Corn isn't an option!
If this all sounds horrible, traumatizing and bonkers...congrats
Now you get the trans experience of cis society
When you're born, you're assigned a gender. As a kid, the word means nothing to you, so it might as well be Corn or Chocolate. Some people consider their assignment part of themselves. Others don't for various reasons. This is how cis and trans people differ.
Despite society forcing a gender down our throats, trans people find a better fit anyways. We learn what's good for us. We learn despite it all, often with no support and no guide. We eat the damn chocolate.
Many of us had no idea that gender is a sorting schematic humans made up then assigned everywhere. We weren't taught that trans people—those who defy their assignment—have always existed. All of this is researchable, but because society is built on this sorting, access is limited. Unless you felt a need to learn it, possibly for your health.
Not knowing being trans is possible is The Real Transgender Problem. For when being cis isn't all there is, it becomes clear that forcing anyone to be what they aren't isn't healthy.
It might even look like force-feeding someone food they don't want, that makes them sick, all because you don't know any better. Now you do. 🤙
K. Leigh is an ex-freelancer, full-time author, and weirdo artist. Read their lgbt+ sci-fi books, connect on Twitter, visit their site, or send them an email if you’d like to work together. 🌈 🏳️⚧️