The Transgender Resident
The ridges of my scars, and their edges wrapping under my arms, are visible through my thin cropped tank. My belly---adorned with a pink camo band aid from my last T-shot---folds over mesh gym shorts with a butterfly print. And on my face, the slightest shadow of stubble wraps under a squaring jaw, a lopsided grin. I've had "aspiring himbo" in my social media bio for nearly three years now, and for the first time, as I stand in front of the mirror, it occurs to me that maybe I can take the word "aspiring" out, because here I am: foolish, and kind, and stronger than before---and exactly how I've aspired to be.
A few months ago, I made the front page of my town's newspaper. The picture showed my back and the side of my face, masked, as I spoke to my District's representatives at a Town Hall meeting. The article referred to me, several times, as "the transgender resident," and multiple strangers later recognized me around the county based on that description alone.
At the Town Hall, my reps tried to pass off transphobia as representing their constituency, so I pressed them to justify their position, and they floundered with their faulty premises as I stood before the packed room---with audience members standing all the way back to the doorways---as living, present proof that transgender people are not only some urban other, but residents here, members of the community.
"I am from Ellensburg. I grew up here. I live here and work here now. And I am transgender."
Saying it out loud, in front of so many people, when so many of them had been cheering for harming transgender youth moments before, was terrifying. But it was also why I came home. I wanted to create a future here that I was never able to imagine as a kid. I wanted to shape this place that's shaped me. I wanted to reshape myself and my community in concert.
Over the summer, I took a leadership course through Emergence Magazine titled "Seeds of Radical Renewal." We heard from artists and activists: Rowan White, Kalyanee Mam, Sam Lee, and Sherri Mitchell, and our discussion groups on Zoom included other participants from all around the world. One discussion prompt asked us to tell our origin stories as leaders.
When my turn came, I explained to my group that most people see only two options for trans people in small communities: 1) leave to reinvent yourself (this applies to cisgender people too), or 2) stay netted within the expectations that those around you developed when you were in third grade, and never deviate without suffering consequences.
But there's another option, the option I chose.
That choice isn't to flee or to cower, instead, it's to live with so much enthusiasm, authenticity, and overwhelming presence that people can't imagine you as anyone other than exactly who you are. They didn't see you last at a cousin's barbeque in high school; they saw you last week, leading a community hike, or volunteering at a restoration site, or speaking on a career panel or winning trivia or carrying a flag in the pride parade or reading poetry in the park or offering to help carry their boxes or or or or... And that's how I've ended up in leadership roles: simply by showing up, sincerely. Being present, as myself. The Transgender Resident, yes, but mostly Vince.
The "Seeds of Radical Renewal" course emphasized an approach to leadership that centers a heart open to the feelings of communities, ecosystems, and landscapes, and that lets those feelings saturate and direct you. Rowan White told us that our world needs hosts, not heroes; that we should let love animate us and be our guide in building the world we want.
So love has been my guide. Love for my own body sustained me through top surgery, after which my breathing became easier, and my skin able to soak in the sun. Love for my friends inspired me to host movie and game and craft nights and to organize outings to musicals and lectures and shows. To let myself value sincerity, no matter how silly or goofy, over perfection, and spend hours giggling and laughing with the people I love. Love for the community forest and our surrounding lands guides my work, as well as the desire to share that love with others. I'm trying my best to be a host that welcomes others into both delight and determination, into the idea that we are capable of building and enjoying a better world, together.
People recognize me now. I don't just mean as The Transgender Resident or by my trivia team name (though I was delighted when someone yelled "KENOUGH!" at me out their car window). I mean someone who's only made me coffee once recognized me in the shop today, and they remembered my order. I mean someone I've only been in one meeting with recognized me on the street, and they called out to me by name. I mean as I chatted with a cashier while buying groceries, they mentioned they've seen me around town. A parent told me their child enjoyed a field trip I helped organize. A college student dragged his transmasc friend over to where I was tabling at a student involvement fair, eager to introduce us strangers.
When I was younger, I tried so hard to be invisible or hidden behind a contrived smoke screen, and I'm still startled to be seen.
I recognize myself, too, when I look in the mirror, in a way I never could before. I don't see the mask of some playable character. Instead, I see myself: goofy, and tenacious, and soft, and linked inextricably to this place and the people of this place.
On November 11th, I'll celebrate my third year of HRT, then on the 17th, it will be eight months since my top surgery.
Transitioning has fundamentally changed my life. It's given me the courage to return to my hometown; it's allowed me to develop truer and deeper relationships with every person I encounter; and it's given me hope, allowing me to imagine futures that aren't possible yet, but that---with our help---could come to be.