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As everyone is aware, the world news is dire. Falling into despair isn’t only easy, it often feels “right,” as in “Why should I find things to feel good about when so many people are in intolerable circumstances?” Along with many other wise people, I say these are the times when we most need counter-examples, sources of hope, stories to feel good about: these salve our souls and they make it more feasible to not look away from the worst situations.
In this spirit, I bring you 17-year-old Alessandra Kahn’s opinion piece from the Los Angeles Times last week. Kahn starts with the relentlessly oppressive and unhappy ways the news currently portrays trans people, but she doesn’t linger there:
When transgender people have access to gender-affirming resources and a supportive community, being trans is actually a joyful thing. In the words of Dr. Johanna Olson-Kennedy, medical director of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ Center for Transyouth Health and Development, “We spend so much time on dysphoria and none on euphoria.” That doesn’t have to be the case.
I recall the joy I felt as a little kid expressing my femininity. I routinely played dress-up, took on the role of a girl in make-believe games with friends and shamelessly declared: “I want to be a girl.” I even went through a phase of dressing up as Amy Winehouse (yes, beehive, eyeliner and all), and performing as her for my family.
She talks about her own body dysphoria and her decision at age 14 to use puberty blockers and estrogen.
My first day on estrogen, I received a package in the mail full of jewelry and accessories that, in my defense, were very in at the time. So, I put on a (very) full face of makeup, too many necklaces, and posted myself all over Instagram and TikTok. Rather than bullying or trying to change me, my friends left comments calling me beautiful and making me feel proud to be myself. I wouldn’t have become who I am now had I been pressured to change. The love around me let me find myself.
The news in this moment is bombarding us not only with horrifying world news and trans oppression, but also with the very disturbing rise in adolescent mental health issues in the U.S. In all of those contexts, picturing that excessively made-up and bejeweled teenager is pure pleasure: who among us had no moments of excess of some sort as a teenager?
Kahn’s whole essay is written as a seesaw between the dangers of transness in 21st century America and the rewards of transness as long as it is accompanied by acceptance.
Because there are increased rates of mental illness among trans people, there’s a common misconception that transness is to blame or that transness is a symptom of an underlying problem. That thinking overlooks the obvious explanation for a correlation: the wide array of social factors that make life as a trans person a struggle. In fact, transitioning can greatly relieve internal pain and incoherence. …
Today, I look in the mirror and am not filled with distress over the body I inhabit. Rather, I feel feminine, beautiful, empowered. In fact, I sometimes find myself unable to avert my eyes. That may sound vain, but never again will I let myself be ashamed for appreciating my trans body and trans mind.
Kahn’s confidence, conviction, and delight brought a smile to my face and a little bounce to my step. I hope it does the same for you.
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