It’s 2019 and I’m on-set for an editorial photoshoot in the heart of New York City. I’m surrounded by queer folks who are just like me, but feel so different from me — this is my first time being named a “queer voice” in the New York scene, and I’m too shy to approach the other people on set even though some of them are my friends. The bigger names in the queer scene are getting their makeup done before me, and are being rushed to have their photos taken because they’re just — too busy — to do this shoot today. But this project mattered so much to me that I’d taken the whole day off. I’m petrified but I have to keep my cool.
In the corner of this massive, sunlight-filled room, someone exclaims “there’s just something so hot about a chick with a dick!” I whip my head around from the makeup chair that I waited hours, really years, to be in. Maybe they’re talking about me, but there’s no way they could be, I’m just trying to lay low. I’m a girl with a dick, like they said, but had never heard someone say that girls like me are hot. I’ve only known that my body needs to be as cis-assumed as possible. Whatever that even means.
I recognize that moment, two years ago, as an introduction to my trans experience and as a new perception of my body. There is something so gorgeous about a woman with genitalia that cis-het communities standardize as ‘masculine.’ It’s the definition of queer, which at its root just means “different or other.” It’s taken me a lot of work to get here, but we need to normalize women with penises.
Phew, it feels good to say that.
“Trans women are taught to accept love scraps,” my beautiful friend Cassandra, a trans woman with a wildly successful acting career, shared with me in intimate conversation. She’s right: I’ve been a secret hookup, a subject to fetishization even on the Grindr app, and a test-drive for men who really like me until they’re confused about their sexual orientation. They tell me it’s my fault. At the end of the day, trans women are left to process transphobia (casual or purposeful) and find ways to still be OK.
My platform on social media is built on empowering other trans folks to understand they’re more than just OK — they are sacred, worthy, and deserve to feel sexy. On Instagram, I’m a self-proclaimed “chick with a dick” who is powerfully feminine. I use the space for infographic posts that advocate for trans lives; for example, I recently shared a post about how surgery (and therefore genitalia) does not define identity.
I often seek guidance from another trans sister of mine, who’s chosen to stay anonymous, for drafting the words in my posts.
“I think it’s important for trans kids to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. “When I was growing up, I didn’t really see a blueprint for what my career or future could look like.” She’s referencing a lack of trans folks with platforms she could look up to when she began transitioning. “Seeing someone you identify with succeed and thrive carries the most impact.”
Social media is our generation’s most powerful tool. While developing a platform, it’s necessary to be sensitive to the feelings my friend mentioned. Trans kids deserve to look up to someone who understands that every trans experience is unique and special — there is no one way to be transgender. That’s something I wish I knew two years ago during that New York City photoshoot. My choice to have bottom surgery does not dictate if I’m “trans enough.” Bottom surgery is a major life decision that I’m not prepared to make just yet.
When I didn’t have other trans folks to look up to, I used my own Instagram as a transition diary. I’d post a new photo after learning a makeup technique, or purchasing my first handbag, and then look backward at my progress. It’s how I kept track of what worked for me, what didn’t, and where I was headed. It helped me feel less alone. To be honest, I became a little embarrassed at how personally I took my Instagram account compared to how my cis friends used theirs.
Now, as I celebrated my 5-year anniversary on hormones, I’m continuing my reflection as a “chick with a dick.”
I have reclaimed the slur to ignite confidence in being a trans woman. I deserve to feel sexy on social media and on apps like Grindr. Every trans person is beautiful and worthy of safe, accessible spaces to find themselves in.