One discussion around the trans identity that I wish we had time to have in class is the discussion of surgery and its relationship to the perceived legitimacy of a trans person’s identity. Janet Mock’s story is largely framed by her journey towards gender reassignment surgery. We, as readers, feel triumphant when she finally earns enough money for the surgery through any means necessary. I do not want to take away from Janet’s truth, but rather to point out that though there are many trans individuals who need surgery to feel comfortable in their bodies, some trans individuals opt out of surgery for a variety of reasons (e.g., age, health concerns, lack of funds). These individuals are no less trans than individuals who transition fully, but struggle significantly more with gaining respect for their identity from both medical professionals and the general population.
Undergoing gender reassignment surgery also makes it easier for trans individuals to withhold their trans history until they are emotionally comfortable enough with their partner. Imagine getting naked with a partner being conflated with having to disclose intimate and sometimes painful histories of growing up trans. Janet Mock, having had surgery, was able to withhold this information from Aaron even after they were first sexually intimate, because she had gender reassignment surgery. This privilege is not available to all trans people making intimate relationships more challenging and complicated.
As happy as I am that transgender individuals are gaining more visibility through conscious, intersectional feminists of color like Janet Mock, I worry that the only prominent representations of trans individuals in media right now are trans women who have fully transitioned (i.e., Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner, Janet Mock). Caitlyn Jenner did not switch to she/her/hers pronouns until she had fully transitioned. This conflation of pronouns and physical change decreases the legitimacy of trans individuals who cannot undergo full gender reassignment surgery and provides hateful individuals with justification for using the wrong pronouns. The public is becoming more well versed in some trans issues but a respect for trans individuals regardless of whether they have had surgery or not is an essential understanding that I feel is still lacking, even among well-intentioned allies.