In this special edition of Ladies We Love, we’re featuring a guest post from Kylie Terra Burnham, a Boston-based artist and instructional designer working with words, movement, and images.
I grew up poor and Jewish in a rural woodland valley in New England. A tomboy, my preferences for things expected of boys—playing outside in the woods, building fires and carrying a pocket knife, engaging in sports like T-ball and soccer—helped mask my trans-ness, from myself as well as others. When I was a teenager, an internet rabbit hole led me to a definition for the word “transgender,” and I realized it explained something about who I was.
For nearly a decade, I wanted to start hormones but thought that I wouldn’t have access—I didn’t have health insurance growing up—or that I would face social and employment consequences. I had no idea there were as many trans people as there are, and I felt very alone. And as a hard femme lesbian and feminist, I struggled to reconcile my identity as a woman with the limited representations of trans women.
After the 2016 election, I doubled-down on the importance of being out anyway, so young trans people would know: We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going anywhere. In the summer of 2017, I started hormones while temporarily living in Boston with four queer women—my first time having queer roommates and living in a big city. When I moved in, I was out in words only, but I quickly realized that even while trying to present as a cis man, I couldn’t hide who I was, wasn’t safer, and that in Boston I’d have some measure of acceptance and access to social life.
Living in Boston again, on my two-year-on-hormones anniversary this summer, I did an Ask Me Anything through my Instagram (@kylie.terra_). Read on for the questions and answers!
What has been a pleasant surprise and unexpected challenge in this process? Pleasant surprises: How accepting people who knew me have been. I felt like I couldn’t claim my gender, pronouns, a new name—that I had no right to and would be rejected. Friends of mine along the way could see that struggle and how much of it was rooted in fear. They wanted me to be happy and adjusted easily to change in my self-understanding. Not only were they accepting, but it turns out it’s way easier to be accepted when you’re being yourself than being someone you’re not. It brings confidence, and people are drawn to that.
Unexpected challenges: It’s a lot harder to out myself or share that I’m trans now that people read me as a cis woman. There’s so much to lose. Cis is often synonymous with “real” in people’s minds, and even when it’s not, people get nervous and change behavior. It’s really vulnerable to share and feels more affirming to not.
Also, the subtle ways I’m pushed to be hyper-feminine. I’ve always been a tomboy/hard femme, but anything I do that has a masc cultural value—from wearing a collared shirt to being extra confident—makes being trans/AMAB more visible. It literally makes it easier to see. That’s part of why I changed my name.
Passing as cis/having conditional acceptance as cis, when I do, is both a pleasant surprise and an unexpected challenge. I didn’t think I would. I don’t want to value it because it’s a harmful concept to strive for and even for those of us who get that conditional acceptance, its effects are not always positive, but it also helps me get the respect and trust I want. It makes moving through the world easier. It also binds me tightly.
Is there something you wish you knew before beginning that you’d like to share with others? Pretty much the answers to the other questions! I also wish I knew how easy it would be. I wish I knew my own happiness is reason enough. I wish I knew I was my biggest obstacle. People will think you’re sexy—and more attractive than before— because confidence is hot. Go ahead and give claiming yourself a try. It’s always an iterative process, there will be some back-and-forth, so there’s no harm in trying a thing now and a lot to gain!
Also, it’s expensive, and being visibly trans while shopping in gendered clothing or makeup sections is really hard. Buying online is an option! I knew this hypothetically but living it is another thing.
Best resources to learn more? I don’t know! That’s part of the problem. A Google search will give you information on what hormones do, though your mileage may vary, as we say in trans communities. But a lot of other information about the process, etc. is really hidden, and legal and procedural things might change in different states, medical centers, and so forth.
Your best bet is to talk to someone who’s gone through whatever you’re curious about. Trans and GNC friends, y’all can always shoot me a DM. But, there’s also a lot more out there than when I was a kid, when it seemed like there were only two websites and a forum on trans stuff!