(Disclaimer: This book was given to me through a secret Santa for Christmas. No endorsements, sponsorships, nor affiliates.)
Mainstream news wants to tell a simplified story about queer people in small-town, rural America: we either remain in the closet, or we face rejection and social isolation because our conservative families and neighbors reject us when we come out. Church won’t let us attend. Friends no longer want to socialize us, from fear of being labeled as ”queer” themselves to outright renouncing the friendship. We suffer from divorce, lose custody, often lose our jobs. We then pack up to the city, where the more ”liberal” attitudes and often a local “gayborhood” will allow us to resettle and start over.
The old narrative for transsexuals went further: we’d move out, start hormone therapy, wait a year to get ”the surgery”, cut all ties with anyone from our past, and start over with our queer partner somewhere new, where we’d live in stealth, and because we were “straight-acting” and “cis-passing” we could finally live a ”normal” life.
True Sex: The Lives of Trans Men at the Turn of the Twentieth Century is an anthology of 18 accounts of trans men who choose to forgo the tradition tale of leaving for the city, and choose to live unassuming lives among America’s small towns and countryside. Back then, the goal wasn’t to be “authentic” as it is today; stealth, as we now call it, was very much a necessity to survive. Their wives and girlfriends would take on traditional roles like housekeeping and smaller farming roles, while the trans men would be day laborers, factory workers, providers.
In the discussion of how often trans women and non-binary individuals are often ridiculed, trans men have a varied history ranging from rejecting to tolerance. When people found out—usually at the time of death or a medical emergency—the townfolk would be in awe, that trans men were willing to do whatever it took to ”be one of the boys”, from the hard work they underwent, to trying to provide for their families. Yea, sure, preachers still often said we were going to hell, but that didn’t change people’s attitudes.
Yes, local (and occasionally national) papers would sensationalize and misgender us.
But as I read this book on and off, it has helped me appreciate where I come from. Sure, where I live is still very much Trump country. I live within 10-15 minutes where one of the largest chapters of the Klan still meet. I still have to travel upwards of an hour just to see a trans-affirming, lgbtq-friendly clinic.
I’m out at work, though—people don’t care what you are or who you’re attracted to; they just want you to show up and do your job. People show off their politics proudly and argue with me being a Democrat, but as soon as I show empathy and turn their diatribe into a discussion, I earn respect. None of the guys give a shit that I piss and shit in the toilet, because I can’t use a urinal (besides the fact, more cis men sit on toilets than transgenders realize). Because I schedule my regular lab work, HRT refills, and doctor visits around my work schedule like everyone else, I get respect from management because I’m not “asking for an exception” about my availability.
Maybe, because our culture still values traditionalism and the patriarchy, that’s why for many trans men our transitions are often more tolerated than those of trans women and transgenders and non-binaries. Because we choose to take on social roles considered more “challenging”, to choose to be “providers”; while trans women just want ”something easier” and enbies are “snowflakes looking for attention”.
After my time in Missoula, I learned I prefer small town and rural life. People are more laid back, the culture is far less harried. The pressures of late-stage, vulture capitalism don’t permeate, even at local factories. Sure, we all know each other’s business, but we also live and let live. When COVID hit, we could still get afternoon and weekend runs or car rides in when the weather allowed it, thus eliminating much of the cabin fever. Noise levels are lower. Nature is everywhere; you don’t have to search and search trying to look for apartments, work, and shopping to be near somewhere green.
Easily you can find refuge from the weariness of the world.