This is the speech I gave tonight, 9/23/18, at Congregation B’Nai Shalom. Video to follow shortly.
Hello, my name is Elijah Cohen-Gordon. I’m a senior at Algonquin Regional High School. Right now, all my focus should be on my college applications. Unfortunately, I have a lot of my attention focused right now on something most kids my age don’t even think about. Before I get to that, I want to tell you about myself.
I was assigned female at birth, but I knew from a young age that that wasn’t correct. As early as 18 months old, I exhibited trans behavior. I refused to let my mom do my hair and put bows and clips in it because that was something that ‘girls’ did. When I was 5, my mom had me do dance, and backstage of my dance recital when I was all dolled up, I looked in the mirror and asked my mom why I looked like a girl. When I was 9, I wondered why I didn’t use he/him pronouns and go by Eli, because I preferred that. There’s so much more in between that I’ve forgotten, but I had a pretty stereotypical trans childhood. I begged my parents to let me wear a suit to my bat mitzvah, and after years of battling, I eventually succeeded.
I came out as bisexual when I was 9 years old, and I don’t think it was a surprise to my parents. They had been waiting for me to come out as a butch lesbian all my life, because that’s what they thought I was. They didn’t think of me being transgender because you never heard of transgender kids. They barely even knew about being transgender in the first place.
Coming out isn’t something you do once. You have to keep coming out for the rest of your life. Almost every day, I come out to someone new. Since I pass as male now, I don’t have to come out as often. Before I was on hormone replacement therapy, people were constantly confused about my gender. I got called “ma’am sir” more times than I can count. People eventually just stopped trying to use gendered honorifics around me, and I couldn’t blame them. I was so excited to start testosterone so I could finally be recognized as male in public. It really hurts to not be recognized as your gender. Cis people usually brush it off, but they don’t understand how much it truly hurts.
Awhile ago, I wrote a thing about dysphoria on my blog, and I want to read it right now:
“I didn’t want to sit around and let my dysphoria get the best of me, so I decided to write. This is kind of messy but bear with me.
When cis people tell me they understand my dysphoria because “everyone feels bad about their body”, it takes all my strength not to go on a rant right there. But I have to remember cis people don’t understand what it’s like to have dysphoria.
I understand that almost everyone feels uncomfortable with their body. You might not like your nose or your thighs or your eyes. I get that. Because the way the media is today, we are faced with unrealistic body types with the assumption that you must look like this or no one will ever want you/you’ll be unsatisfied with your life. You feel frustrated about your body because it doesn’t fit an unrealistic standard. And I get that, and that feeling is genuinely awful.
But dysphoria is more than that.
Wanting to change a part of your body is different than genuinely feeling like you’re in the wrong body, like this body isn’t you. I used to look in the mirror when I was little and think “Is this really me? Am I inhabiting this body?” And I’d get really confused. I didn’t know I was transgender. I didn’t even know who I was a person. I would see my chest or my hips or even just my feet and want to cry. This isn’t me. I felt lost in my own body.
When I was around 13, I began to self harm because even though I knew that this wasn’t true, a little part of me hoped if I could get out of this body my ‘right’ body would be underneath my skin, waiting to come out. I know this is wrong now because this is my right body.
It’s taken me awhile to come to that conclusion. When people say “this is your girl body” and “this is your boy body”, I tell them they’re wrong. This is just my body. It’s not gendered. I have biologically female parts, yes, but that doesn’t determine my gender. This is my body. It still makes me beyond uncomfortable and I wish that I would lose my curves and my feet would grow and that I’d become taller, but I know that can’t happen. So I have to accept myself.
Has my dysphoria gotten better now that I’ve accepted that this is my body and there’s not much more I can do to change it? No. But at least I can deal with it. I can sit down and think “Okay, so I feel very uncomfortable with my body right now. But this is my body, and it’s not a girl’s body because I’m not a girl and it’s not a boy’s body because I’m a boy. It’s just a body, and works just like any other body.”
I don’t really know what I’m trying to get across here, but if you have to take away one thing from this, it would be that dysphoria is not just disliking a certain aspect of your body, but genuinely knowing that this body doesn’t feel right and doesn’t align with you and it causes extreme anxiety, but you can work through it. Just don’t tell a trans person “I know how you feel” if you’re cis. You have a similar situation, but you don’t understand and never will (thankfully). If you’re trying to help someone with dysphoria, just remind them that their body isn’t gendered and it is the right body and it’s healthy and keeping you alive and that’s all it needs to do. That helps me personally.”
I started hormone replacement therapy (testosterone) on September 25th, 2016. Testosterone has changed my body dramatically. On March 14th, 2016, I had top surgery. People are so against kids my age having surgery, but they don’t understand the pain I went through. Before my top surgery, I had to my bind my breasts, and I had a pretty large chest. Chest binders are torture machines. I’ve bruised my ribs multiple times because of them. You can’t wear them for more than eight hours, and if you sleep in one, it can be extremely dangerous. I wore one for fourteen hours once and ended up in the emergency room. My mom would have to hold me in a certain way so my lungs could open and I could get in a decent breath. Insurance only covers transgender surgeries when you turn 18, and we knew I couldn’t be in a binder for four more years. My parents went on a six month battle against our insurance company, complete with three appeals, and finally, my top surgery was confirmed. More doctors and psychologists than I know wrote to our insurance company explaining why I needed the surgery, and I’m forever thankful to them.
Now, back to why I haven’t written my college essay yet, mom.
You all know about Yes on 3 by now hopefully, but I’m going to read the description of the ballot question from Freedom Massachusetts dot org.
“This law adds gender identity to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in places of public accommodation, resort, or amusement. Such grounds also include race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, disability, and ancestry. A “place of public accommodation, resort or amusement” is defined in existing law as any place that is open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public, such as hotels, stores, restaurants, theaters, sports facilities, and hospitals. “Gender identity” is defined as a person’s sincerely held gender-related identity, appearance, or behavior, whether or not it is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth. This law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in a person’s admission to or treatment in any place of public accommodation. The law requires any such place that has separate areas for males and females (such as restrooms) to allow access to and full use of those areas consistent with a person’s gender identity. The law also prohibits the owner or manager of a place of public accommodation from using advertising or signage that discriminates on the basis of gender identity. A YES VOTE would keep in place the current law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in places of public accommodation. A NO VOTE would repeal this provision of the public accommodation law.”
All you need to know: the Public Accommodations bill has been in place since 2016. A study published in the Boston Globe showed that there have been no link between transgender rights laws and bathroom crimes. After the passing of the Public Accommodations bill, there has been no rise in bathroom crimes in Massachusetts.
“Let’s make a separate bathroom for trans people!” seems to be the common ‘compromise’. But let me tell you first hand how dehumanizing that is. I was forced to use the nurse’s single stall bathroom in middle school, and having to walk down three flights of stairs to just wash my hands, and then be yelled at for missing class time is humiliating. Being told that all people like me only exist to scare your children and assault your spouses is mortifying. Being told you don’t deserve the right to exist in a public space is barbaric. I am a human. Transgender people are humans. We have basic bodily functions like you, and we have emotions like you. We just want to use the bathroom. I promise, we don’t want to assault you. I don’t even want to look at you. I just want to do my business and leave. The only time you should yell at a transgender person in the bathroom is if they don’t wash their hands, and you shouldn’t even be thinking about gender in that case.
I’m seventeen years old. I cannot vote in this upcoming election. I’m counting on complete strangers to vote for my rights. All I can do is campaign and spread the word as much as I can, and hope people hear my message.