T as in Toni: Letting things go

Toni Carlotta is a senior communications major. They are a staff writer for the Newswire from Cincinnati.

Transphobia is defined as the “irrational fear of; aversion to; or discrimination against transgender/gender-nonconforming(GNC) people,” according to Merriam-Webster. Transphobic interactions can end in outright violence against trans bodies. Transphobic interactions can include more subtle forms of prejudice, too, like intentionally misgendering trans people both to their face and behind their back; or only respecting trans people who “pass” as cisgender. Internalized transphobia (discomfort with one’s trans/GNC identity due to societal pressures of normative gender expression) keeps trans-GNC individuals in a state made to make them  feel ashamed of their identity, gender expression or desire/ability to access hormone replacement therapy.

Even before accepting myself as trans, internalized transphobia influenced virtually every choice I made. I was so deep in the closet that I still wore dresses and pretended to be a straight girl. My inner voice was a loop of self-doubt and negativity:

 “What would I say to everyone? Who would ever hire me? Would my professors act uncomfortable if I started medically transitioning? Am I dressing ‘girly’ enough today to keep my family from saying something negative?”

For years, I did everything to avoid facing the growing resentment and shame toward my need to medically transition. Unhealthy coping mechanisms were my “answer” to these deeply internal issues. This meant prioritizing the happiness and needs of family members before my own, taking out issues on people who genuinely had good intentions and never deserved my cranky rambling and suppressing my emotional growth with self-destructive and self-numbing behaviors. It’s as if I was wearing a costume to keep others from judging me as harshly as I judged myself. It felt like I was going through life on autopilot to protect myself from what others might think.

It took the death of my older sister in 2017 to pull me into reality. Her passing reminded me how short life truly is and how much time is wasted from fear of what others might say. I have no responsibility to keep anyone around me comfortable by playing a part I never signed up for.

In 2018, I began medically transitioning in secret. Part of it was fear of a negative reaction from peers, and the other part was a deep fear of being seen as a joke by transitioning. Things didn’t exactly go well when one of my parents found out, but that’s old news.

2019 gave me valuable space to reflect on putting myself before the expectations of others. For the first time, I don’t feel the need to numb myself in order to make it through my day. Being comfortable enough with my identity to not seek approval from others is a nice change in self-perception. Summer gave me the space to gain my own sense of self-worth, being my own motivator in evolving as an adult. Who do I want to be? At the end of the day, I want to be happy. It took a long time to accept letting go of past resentment. Simultaneously acknowledging the pain felt and allowing the mental baggage to dissolve was my mindfulness routine.

Letting go of frustration at circumstances is difficult, especially when you’re as hard-headed as myself. After 22 years, letting go of past hurt instead of festering in grudges has saved my life. I won’t pretend every day is great; I still struggle with bringing up my trans-ness to strangers because of experiences in the past. Still, I haven’t been this at peace with my life in so long — it’s like falling in love for the first time.