Not trans enough, too trans to matter?

Rachel Saunders
6 min readJan 29, 2023

If you state an opinion expect to get feedback, pushback, and people who misread what you say. Constructive conversations and engagement are great for sharpening ideas, crystalising thoughts, and progressing forwards. No-one has the full picture, and the great part of discussing queer ideas and theory is that there is always fresh and new perspectives to understand. Yet, mixed in with that are those who misread or misunderstand your ideas and thrust them into a new direction. This can be frustrating but is also a useful mirror to help me sharpen my writing and ideas.

Within the trans community there are a milieu of voices, each with different perspectives and life experiences. Trying to find common ground is difficult because those lived truths are deeply personal and hard to reconcile with other formative experiences. Thus, the idea that someone appears not to be trans enough to merit taking them seriously or becomes too extra for their perspective to hold water. A person needs to be in the Goldilocks zone of just trans enough to be palatable, but does not bring extra baggage that nullifies their voice.

Is there merit in measuring a trans person’s quantum of suffering before they are taken seriously? For a voice to be heard pain, suffering, and loss of rights is accounted for. The joy is fleeting, not newsworthy or relevant to the praxis of transness. Not trans enough, for the suffering must be true. Surely? What sticks in the mind is the agony of decision, the narrow path to navigate to a gender identity, and the solace of finding peace in the rejection. This is the Goldilocks narrative because it sells books, makes a great movie, and generates clicks. To be trans is to suffer.

Yet there are plenty of other trans narratives that are hidden away. If being trans was perpetual stigmata, then our blood would cover every pavement. The euphoria of self, the phoria of living an affirmed life, must be more than the Goldilocks dystopia. Yes, there is plenty of trans suffering caused by both State and society, which the societal narrative latches on to, but there is joy and passion walking this path too.

My writing, my research, aims to break the dystopian narrative, both by looking to create trans legal normativity, and by showing that to be trans is not a personal dystopia, it is a dystopia created by those around us. Being trans is not about being just right, for there is no just right. You are never not trans enough, for the lives we live are our own. To say that we are extra just because we might be on the autistic spectrum, done sex work, or transitioned later in life is to nullify essential formative parts of who we are.

I transitioned at 17 in 2000, though had been part of the online trans community two years prior. I was always at peace with my gender, had no hesitation in identifying with myself, and since I came out have never felt my life was dystopian in any shade. Yes, life has been difficult at times, but often that was more down to my personality than anything else. My experiences are unique to me, and in no way nullify anyone else’s perspectives or understanding. I come at being trans from a place of peace and deep understanding, driven by a desire to make gender variance normative not because I want cisnormativity, but because why should folk not be able to just exist as the gender they affirm themselves to be?

Research, especially trans research, is always a formative experience. There are tens of thousands of voices from across the spectrum of life, and I can only sift through those who leave a footprint behind. Those voices who are not deemed newsworthy or without social media presence are impossible to hear because they have left no evidence of their thoughts and understanding. Those that have leave a highly curated version of the self that needs unpicking and unknotting to make sense from. It is easy to misread, mis-interpret, and then pushback against ideas and concepts that I lack contextual understanding of. To be a constructive researcher, a constructive voice, I need to engaging with an open mind, seeing trans voices in their breadth, but also weave their tapestry into something that the wider cis world can understand and digest.

This then brings up the matter of who the audience for my work is, who the audience for any work is. Audience matters, because the tone and content need to engage and communicate ideas effectively. If the intended audience misreads or has a critical reaction to an idea then that is on the communicator to better conceptualise their ideas. My work is intended for a broad audience, which is why while I may use some academic language I try to write with clarity and defined purpose. If I fail, then I need to rethink and reconceptualise.

As a trans researcher writing about trans matters it can be hard to keep things on point, as there is so much context that I am aware of that cannot go into 1000 words. Many of the ideas I have spent a long time thinking through, and my writing is a way of exploring them. This notion of not being trans enough, or being too extra, is at the heart of my dilemma, as while the suffering suffuses through pretty much all my source material, my life outside of this is full of so much joy and passion. There is a balancing act of bringing together the dispossessed, fighting for their rights and understanding their travails, while also scoping out a way to fundamentally delivering urgently needed legal reforms and legislation that requires cis folk to enact.

I always stress that I am one voice, one perspective. In some ways I am both not trans enough for the current narrative, as my personal quantum of suffering is negligible, while also being too extra because my transition happened at the exact moment trans stopped being a significant issue and prior to the current right-wing backlash. I always resist saying in my day, because in my day I had to be the pathfinder because there was literally the barest of paths to tread. I also have to compartmentalise my desire to be normative because it is definitely not the experience most trans folks have.

To put anything in writing is to expect critique, and I have certainly grown as an academic over the last six years by engagement with the community. I will never get 100% agreement on an idea, which is why I write in a manner that invites conversation and discourse. I am of a generation of trans folk where transsexual was in vogue, where shemale and tranny were par for the course within the community. Now the semantics have changed, evolved, grown into the flourishing garden of ideas that I walk through and engage with. This is why I write, not to prove or score a point, but to develop as a thinker and converse with my audience. It is not about being enough or too extra, it is about being myself and allowing you to be you within the conversation. This for me is the trans community at its heart, an evolving discourse, ever moving, ever growing. I just need to keep up.