7 min read

The single letter that would erase my transness

If I die waiting for top surgery, forget burial – just drop my body on the steps of 10 Downing Street.
The single letter that would erase my transness
David Wojnarowicz in 1988.

[CW: suicide, death, the genocide of trans people, discussion of AIDs epidemic, mention of unsupportive families]

Some days, the main thing that stops me from killing myself is the 'F' they would put on my death certificate.

Transphobes are obsessed with the idea that when they dig up our bones in the future, archaeologists will be not be able to tell that we're trans. Honestly, even if they're right – and I like to think that our understanding of gender will continue to evolve in such a way that I wouldn't be put in one of two binary categories based on my pelvis bone – I'm not sure it matters. I don't care that, thousands of years in the future, people might not know I'm trans.

I do care that in death I am recognised as trans, because my transness would have contributed to my suicide.

I no longer see my suicide as inevitable, but the last few weeks have been hard. Last week I realised that I’ve been expecting myself to keep going as though I’m an abled and neurotypical person, and as though the vile transphobia in the news every day isn’t impacting my mental health. But I’m not and it is.

I’m not alone in this: I don’t know a single trans person right now who isn’t scared, who isn’t angry and exhausted and not fucking ok. But I refused to extend the same compassion towards myself that I would to anyone else. I forced myself to push through and pretend I was ok, and it all ended up with me at my local mental health crisis centre.

Dealing with intrusive thoughts about suicide is a part of my life that won’t be going away any time soon. I know how to keep myself safe (or reach out if I can’t), but fuck: how can you fight the voice in your head telling you to kill yourself when one of the most powerful countries in the world is passing laws that would kill you anyway?

I’m not going to kill myself, but some days the only reason I don’t is a stubborn determination that my transness will not be erased. And if I died now, there would be an F on my death certificate. My parents would undoubtedly organise my funeral. My parents, who still deadname and misgender me.

My parents, who wouldn’t understand that my death is political, that every trans suicide is political.

The Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half of trans and non-binary youth had seriously considered suicide in the last year. Research by Just Like Us found that more than 80% of trans and non-binary youth have experienced suicidal thoughts. And that’s not because being trans is wrong or trans people are broken, it's because society is wrong and broken.

It’s because of the years long waiting lists for access to life-saving healthcare. It’s because of the legislation that is stripping away our rights. It’s because of the normalised and accepted transphobia that allow politicians to hide their bigotry behind the language of concern for women’s rights. If I killed myself tomorrow – which I won’t – it would be in part because transphobia is baked into our society.

If I die waiting for top surgery, forget burial – just drop my body on the steps of 10 Downing Street. A paraphrase of the words David Wojnarowicz hand-painted on to the back of a denim jacket in 1988.

Wojnarowicz was an American artist and activist. I’ve only read snippets of his writing and doubt I could identify any of his artwork in a gallery. But I do know that in 1987, he took photos of his mentor, friend, and lover, Peter Hujar. Not to commemorate a birthday or capture their relationship, but to document Hujar's death. He died of AIDS-related complications, of course. Wojnarowicz received his own death-sentence diagnosis in the following years and died in 1992. (He was only 37.)

I haven't seen those photographs, but I picture them. Sometimes I picture me in them. When I think about my suicide and when I think about Wojnarowicz, I imagine my body after my death as though it was being photographed. In my head, my chest is flat. If I catch a glimpse of my reflection when I’m not binding, there’s a disconnect between what I see and what I’m expecting.

I imagine the fat and tissue of my breasts being cut away. Rather than the skin being sewn up into neat, post-top surgery scars, I imagine wounds that look as raw and painful as existing as a trans person feels right now. Make it ugly, put on a show. Make it impossible for people to ignore my transness in death.

Would they still put an F on my death certificate if I looked like that?

I’m not going to kill myself, but fuck: some days it’s hard. Some days, all I can do is remind myself that making it impossible for trans people to keep living our lives and existing without fear is what the transphobes want, and I refuse to give them that.

Some days, the main thing that stops me from killing myself is the 'F' they would put on my death certificate. Regardless of what it will say on my death certificate when I die, I want to do my best to ensure that my transness cannot be erased. And that means getting through the next thirty seconds. Then the next.

Atlas Easton shared this incredible artwork a few weeks ago and I'm absolutely in love with it. You should absolutely go and follow them on Twitter or Instagram and donate to their top surgery fundraiser if you're able to.
Do you want essays exploring gender and transmasculinity delivered directly to your inbox on an irregular basis? Subscribe to Genderbent to support my writing and make sure you don't miss a newsletter.

💌 Footnotes

I'm trying not to feel guilty that I've barely read any of the important writing and journalism around the clusterfuck of transphobia and targeted roll back of trans rights. If you're feeling the same, please remember that it's important to take care of yourself. You're allowed to step away and protect your mental health.

  • I wrote about PrEP and EastEnder's new HIV positive storyline for HuffPost! As someone who recently started PrEP, I wanted to use this pop culture moment as an opportunity to educate more folks about what PrEP is and how it works. I talked to some incredibly activists for the piece, and really tried to highlight the ways PrEP is inaccessible in the UK even though it's available for free on the NHS.
  • To celebrate Trans Day of Having A Nice Snack, I asked the brilliant Tuck Woodstock what his favourite snack is. (We also talked about mutual aid and how harmful the current hyper-visibility of trans people is.) Tuck is the host of T4T podcast Gender Reveal and I can't believe I got a chance to interview them for VICE – a publication I've pitched multiple times over the last three years.
  • I finally made it to one of sex educator and porn maker Billy Lore's workshops! Back in February, I got a notification that Billy was live on Instagram, where he was 'teasing' the first ten or so minutes of Beautifully Bruised Booties. I hurriedly bought a ticket so I could watch the full class, and I had SO MUCH FUN. Billy teaches the workshop along with his boyfriend Dee, who is serves as giggly impact bottom and the person keeping half an eye on questions in the chat. Their chemistry and flirting made for an incredibly engaging class, and I came away with so many new, sadistic ideas I want to try out.
  • More recently, I went to the final launch event for Vaneet Mehta's Bisexual Men Exist* at Lighthouse Books. (Having just spent the day writing about PrEP, I'm worried that I info-dumped about how event-based dosing isn't an option for trans people on hormones while he was signing my copy of the book...) I hadn't heard the term 'm-spec' – meaning multi-gender attracted spectrum – before, and I'm especially excited for the chapter that explores the intersection of bisexuality with other marginalised identities.
  • I'm really enjoying Anne Helen Peterson's new (ish) podcast, Work Appropriate. The episode with writer and creator Morgan Givens is definitely my favourite so far, because it explores being seen as the "difficult" one at work. As someone who is autistic, disabled and trans, I spend a lot of time thinking about whether those things will effect my ability to find employment in the future, so it was really helpful and reassuring to hear about other people navigating what to do if your workplace treats your identity as a problem.
*Links marked with an * are affiliate links, so if you click through and buy a book then I get a small commission at no cost to you.

🏳️‍⚧️ Gender euphoria snippets

My voice is bringing me so much joy right now. After my autism diagnosis and my girlfriend giving me the language of verbal stimming to describe something I've done all my life, I'm trying to stop shaming myself for it. I sing along to the song I'm listening to without realising I'm doing it, until I catch the lower resonance of my own voice and can't stop myself from grinning. I love the moments where I open my mouth and nothing comes out because my voice just doesn't make those sounds any more. I've been recording my voice every week since I started testosterone, and the difference in how I sound now compared to May 2022 is just incredible.