Not Just a Phase: Reflections from Creating Change 2018

I’m in Washington, DC at the 30th Creating Change Conference, an annual political, leadership and skills-building conference organized by the National LGBTQ Task Force. I’m rushing to a session and I get into the elevators—the ones that always trip me up because we have to take them down to get to our rooms. I’m in the elevator with another person, an older person. They’re wearing a professional-looking suit and they have gray hair. I suddenly feel so young, so underdressed. They turn towards me and I catch a glimpse of the badge around their neck that we all have to wear. They have a pronoun button fastened to the bright orange lanyard, and I see it clear as day: they/them.

I grew up on Long Island, New York. The first trans person I ever talked to was someone who transferred out of my high school, when I stumbled upon them on Tumblr by mistake and we realized we knew each other. The first time I heard of a trans person was when my aunts and mother found out through Facebook that one of their high school classmates was trans. And that was handled with no tact at all: “[Dead name] is now [Name], can you believe that?” My mom even went as far as to say he was never “pretty as a girl anyway.”

This was all before I knew I was non-binary, but I sometimes wonder if I would have figured it out earlier if the environment I grew up in was different. I could have been like the trans student in my roommate’s mother’s fifth grade class, or my friends who knew when they were just teens.

At Creating Change, I went to a speed dating activity for trans masc individuals and when a man stood up to explain the activity to us, I wondered why they’d let someone who wasn’t trans lead this activity. I made the same assumption last year too, and I’m still learning from my ignorance. Since I’m still young and still new to the trans community, I’m still not used to seeing individuals who pass so well by our society’s standards. I’m used to kids who just changed their names, just got their IDs changed, just started testosterone.

I’m used to people who came out three years ago, not thirteen. I’m also still used to seeing this as a phase. It’s something that I’ve internalized. It’s so easy to get caught up in the adrenaline of being trans, feeling like it’s some sort of rebellion to the larger world, and I grasp onto it too tightly sometimes, because I feel like it’s all going to slip away. When I saw that person in the elevator with they/them pronouns, I saw confirmation that being trans isn’t just some sort of millennial phase like so many articles say. I saw that maybe I won’t “realize I’m a girl” in five years or be forced to misgender myself for a job for the rest of my life. When I saw these trans people at the conference, I realized that there’s a future for someone like me. I realized that we didn’t just pop up and start adding all these new confusing labels like my parents think, but that we’ve always been here and always will be.

Lauren Lopez