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  • Writer's pictureAriel Tovlev

Living Out Loud

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

I've been thinking about something lately.

I know I talk a lot about being trans. And some people who haven't known me very long might be wondering why. The truth is, as it stands today, if I didn't out myself, people most likely wouldn't know. When I meet a stranger, they see a guy. They don't question it.

When we think about who we are, we didn't just arrive at the present. Who we are is every moment in our lives stacked up on top of each other to make up what we have become.

Sometimes things change all at once. That's kinda what happened with me. Things changed so painfully slowly for so long, so slowly that I felt like nothing was changing at all, I felt like nothing would ever change, and then suddenly everything was different.

A year ago I was stuck in two worlds. My family knew I was trans. My synagogue community knew I was trans. My friends knew I was trans. But, outside of that, I was being read as female almost all of the time. It was to the point that if someone else gendered me as male, it would make my whole week.

I was learning Hebrew at the university. I had been on testosterone for a year at that point, but had only been on a couple of months when I first started. I remember the first day of class. I tried to look as masculine as I could. I was so anxious about it. It can be so nerve-wracking wondering if someone will gender you wrong, or, maybe to put it in a better way, when they will gender you wrong. Sometimes in English, if people aren't sure they might avoid using gendered pronouns altogether. That is quite impossible in Hebrew. Everything is gendered. And on that first day of class, my professor gendered me female. And I said nothing.

I said nothing for a long time. I had a lot of feelings about it. I was embarrassed, I was uncomfortable, and I was scared. Most of all, I was scared. The fear was so great, sometimes it made me feel so small in comparison. At one point, a couple years earlier, I wasn't so afraid. I used to introduce myself with my pronouns, I used to correct people when they used the wrong ones. Nothing terrible happened. No one beat me up, no one threatened me. But there were people who laughed. They laughed at me, they refused to use my pronouns, and they made a point to let me know exactly how stupid they thought transgender identities were.

I was never a "sticks and stones may break my bones" kinda guy. Words have always hurt me.

I didn't tell my Hebrew class until I legally changed my gender. It's silly, but I felt like if I waited until it was legal, no one could tell me that I wasn't really a guy. They couldn't tell me I'd always be a girl. And if they tried, I could say, "Not according to the state of Minnesota." My professor was so kind and understanding. I had to miss class to go to court, and she told them on that day. I returned the next day, and my professor used different pronouns for me.

I know someone who once told me he used to be overweight. Standing in front of me I only saw a thin person, as he said, "It stays with you, you know? I'll always feel like the fat kid, no matter what I look like." I sometimes feel that way about my gender. I got so used to being read as female, that even though it doesn't happen anymore, it's like I'm waiting for it to.

It was maybe 10 months ago that I started getting read as male more than incidentally. And maybe 8 months ago that I started getting read as male regularly. When I started at HUC 6 months ago, I was getting read as male all the time. But it was still so new to me, I was still learning how to process it. It's easy to get in your head about the whole thing. I kept thinking, what will I inevitably do that will out me?

I also wondered what this newfound privilege might do to me. Would it change me? Would I forget where I came from? Could I ever erase that little girl who made me the man I am today? Would I want to?

Not every trans person gets the opportunity to hide that they're trans, or be "stealth" as they say in the trans community. Not everyone gets the privilege of walking down the street knowing strangers are going to read you the way you want them to. Some people need to be stealth, for work, for safety. I decided back before I "passed" as male, that if I ever did, I did not want to be stealth.

I want to be open because some people don't get to make that decision. I want to be open because I don't want to forget where I've come from and what I've gone through. And I want to be open because I don't want to be afraid anymore, afraid of what people might say if they knew. I want to look that fear in the face and say, "I'm bigger than you. You will never make me feel small again."

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